“I never really was a turkey eater,” said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht of Garden of Eve organic farm in Aquebogue. Until last year, when she and her husband Chris raised a few dozen Bourbon Red turkeys and compared one with a standard Butterball on turkey day. “Now we understand the story,” Eve said. “They really are that good. They actually had taste and the regular turkey didn’t.”
What makes Bourbon Reds different from regular turkeys is that they are an old breed, from the time before 99 percent of Americas turkeys were transformed into Broad-Breasted Whites — sad, hulking creatures who add weight quickly, grow uniformly and tolerate factory farm conditions. “Heritage” or “heirloom” birds like the Bourbon Red or American Bronze don’t grow as large, but they offer dark, rich and succulent meat that requires no basting, compared to the standard birds’ cracker-like dryness and lack of flavor. In recent years, small farms across America raising flocks of the Bourbon Red, a handsome bird with dark red plumage and white tail feathers that can sail through the air and roost in the tops of trees, have helped to take it off the endangered list.
Garden of Eve is raising the birds again this season and still has about 20 that aren’t claimed for Thanksgiving. For those who might balk at the higher price, the farm also has about 50 regular old Broad-Breasted Whites. But don’t worry. Since the farm’s turkeys graze outside on grass, grubs, and flies off the cow, even the standard Whites are a step up from supermarket fare.