THE BLOG

Big Bird

11/19/2010 12:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This is the first Thanksgiving that we are eating a turkey that someone else raised. That is one of the first things I will be thankful for. The next thing will be the great friends and family that I get to share this holiday with. Why didn't we raise a turkey? Simple, we just kept waiting for it to stop raining here in Maine, but it never really did. What you have heard about turkeys being less than sensible is all true. They will stay out in their pen in driving cold rain when they could be in a nicely heated house with a foot of pine shavings. Being out in the rain wouldn't be most poultry's first choice, but you can't stop a turkey from self-destruction. One year we decided to experiment with Heritage turkeys like Bourbons and Narragansetts, old varieties. They have a richer, denser meat because they take so long to grow and we were hoping that they would be smart enough to know when to "get in, out of the rain." We ordered our heritage turkeys from Murray McMurray, the premier poultry breeder and 18 of the cutest baby turkeys arrived by mail. The minimum is 18 because that is how many it takes to generate enough warmth for them to arrive safely by mail.

The Postmistress of our small town called at 5:30 in the morning to tell us our chirping box had arrived, which she immediately placed next to the furnace. It is a ritual to take the dogs. They get so excited! It's their job to babysit the birds for the next few weeks. The heat lights are ready, all the water containers and food bowls are filled. We are ready for the turkeys and it is only June! Who said Thanksgiving is an easy holiday? We nurture, feed and chase these 18 turkeys every day for 6 months. They eat more and more grain, picking up speed with each passing month, emptying 50 pound grain bags with more frequency. Every week, I lift a turkey, my sister lifts a turkey and we look at each other. "How much do you think that one weighs?" We'd ask about the biggest one, of course. "Oh, I don't know, maybe 16 or 17 pounds." I shake my head. "I don't think so, but we still have a couple of weeks." Like they were going to balloon overnight!

Four days before the holiday we herd the big guys into containers. We were off to the arbitor at 5 o'clock in the morning in the pitch dark, driving our 1985 1-ton truck painted in camo colors and not the present war's colors either. Why so early? I like to have my birds be the first ones processed when everything is sqeaky clean. There is nothing like driving away from the arbitor at sunrise with your poultry booty out back all iced up. No really! Well, that year was a little different. The 18 turkeys that we raised so lovingly for 6 months dressed out at an embarassing weight! The average being 9 pounds, the two biggest at 13 pounds, not 13.5 just 13.0. Oh, our Thanksgiving was ruined was my first reaction. Where was the Norman Rockwell turkey? Not in the back of our truck! And the comments of the others waiting in line with their pickups filled with HUGE turkeys -"When did you get those, last week?" or "Are they guinea hens?"

Well, you get the picture. All that work and no gorgeous turkey to show for it. Not to mention all the disappointed people that were planning on serving our turkeys for their Thanksgiving feast. Not good. By the way, I know it's 3 days before thanksgiving do you mind a 8 pound turkey or how about 3-8 pounders and you can stuff each one with a different dressing? It will be so lovely. I think they thought we had lost our mind!

Well, that is exactly what I did. I made four turkeys and I used just one kind of stuffing. They were wonderful in taste and texture as long as my eyes were closed. I sure missed that big beautiful turkey, so golden brown sitting on my grandmother's turkey platter! I vowed it would never happen again! The next year we got bronze breasted turkeys, which were the perfect turkeys to raise. It knew when to save its own live and come in out of the rain. It grew quickly, had a sweet personality and the dogs loved them. Did I mention that one of my bronze breasted turkeys dressed out at 62 pounds and the others were in the high 20's. It was the largest turkey the people at the arbitor had ever seen and no one asked if I got them last week!

JULIE'S OYSTER STUFFING

1 1/2 pints fresh shucked oysters, save the liquor from the oysters
1 large package pepperidge farm herb stuffing mix
3 eggs
1 stick melted butter
1/4 cup chopped celery, lightly sauteed
2 cup, chopped onions, lightly sauteed
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add celery and onions-cook for 5 minutes until they loose their crispness. In a large bowl place all the herb stuffing mix, add cooked celery, onions, with all the melted butter, parsley, the 3 beaten eggs, poutry seasoning, all the drained oysters. Salt and pepper to taste. Combine well. Start slowly adding the oyster liquor to the combined stuffing mixture. I like a fairly wet dressing but stop anywhere that looks proper for you. I will use at least a pint of liquor. Stuff into a gorgeous turkey cavity and roast until done.

- By Brenda Athanus