Discover Better Flavor this Thanksgiving

Aubrey Vaughn
November/December 2007
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Everyone loves the food at Thanksgiving the creamy mashed potatoes, bittersweet cranberries and rich homemade pies. But many don't anticipate the main dish, turkey, because it often has a dry, bland flavor. Change, though, is in the air, or, rather, on the table. At your family feast this year, turkey can reclaim its glory, and rightfully take its place as the mouthwatering centerpiece of a great Thanksgiving feast. The secret to this success is a heritage turkey.

Heritage turkeys are the varied and beautiful ancestors of the (selectively bred) high-yield, low-flavor and no-variety broad-breasted white turkeys that appear on millions of tables every fourth Thursday in November. Unlike their cage-raised, monoculture descendants, heritage turkeys boast a range of textures and tastes. For a firm, moist bird with serious flavor, you can choose from a variety of heritage turkeys for the big day. Thanks to a dedicated group of breeders, heritage species are being saved from obscurity and extinction.

Heritage turkeys aren't raised on factory farms, but often free-range, which means healthier birds and healthier meat. And these truly traditional turkeys are becoming increasingly popular, so be sure to contact a local farmer well in advance to secure one for your family table. You can find heritage turkey breeders online at Local Harvest and Slow Food USA, and learn more about these magnificent birds and the work being done to preserve them in our article Saving Rare Breeds.

Better flavor and nutrition aren't the only perks of heritage turkeys. Enjoying a tastier holiday is also a great way to create a more sustainable Thanksgiving and support local farmers. The turkey isn't the only dish that benefits from a simple, more authentic approach.

From the beets to the stuffing, choose fresh, local, seasonal ingredients rather than processed supermarket varieties. Don't worry about changing everything all at once. Start this year with the items that fit into your schedule and budget  maybe just the bread or pumpkin pie. If heritage turkeys are sold out in your area, make a note to reserve one earlier.

The Thanksgiving holiday in particular is about community, about sharing and enjoying the year's plenty together. So share the fun, and invite each guest to bring a local or organic dish. Enjoy the story of each item, the origin of the food, the unsurpassed flavor. No matter which courses you change this year, it's bound to be your best Thanksgiving, until next year.

Share your tips for a savory sustainable Thanksgiving in the comments section below.

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