Monday, November 13, 2006

Time to gobble down some turkey trivia

Last weekend newspaper ads and flyers began to dedicate a considerable amount of space to reminding customers it was time to get their turkeys for Thanksgiving.

To entice shoppers, they offer different attractions: buy $100 worth of groceries and get a free turkey. Or buy a ham and get a free turkey. Or for a certain amount of money, get a turkey and all the other things you might possibly need for the dinner table for your guests.

The ads have grown a bit more complicated. In the past, a turkey was a turkey, and the biggest consideration was what size of turkey should be bought. The size of turkey purchased was usually influenced by three things: the amount of people expected to dine, what size was the oven at the house, and how big was the roaster the cook owned.

Actually, there was also a fourth consideration. How many turkey leftovers did the cook wish to have for the next few days or weeks afterward. When every possible turkey leftover recipe has been exhausted and turkey muffins are being considered (possible mixed with left over pumpkins from Halloween), it’s time to give up and declare the turkey feasting season is officially over.

This year Roth's grocery stores is encouraging people to pre-order their holiday turkeys, and provides a form to clip out of the newspaper and give to the meat department.

Obviously, selecting turkeys is a bit more complicated now, as shown by the descriptions of the turkeys.

First, there was Norbest Free Range: “This Grade A young turkey was lovingly raised on a traditional family farm, free to roam outdoors to soak up fresh air and sunshine.”

The second choice was Norbest Family Tradition: “This is another premium quality A-Grade young turkey, 100 percent natural, with no added MSG or other ingredients.”

Third up, the Norbest Fresh Turkey: “Norbest Tender-Timed Yoing Turkeys are Grade A premium quality, deep basted throughout with natural turkey broth. No MSG added.”

And last but not least, Shelton's Fresh Free Range Turkey: “Shelton Turkeys are raised in open range pens for up to 26 weeks. The turkeys are NEVER fed or administered any antibiotics or artificial growth stimulants. Shelton turkeys have been the standard of excellence since 1924.”

Shelton's turkeys come from an interesting past. According to the company website, "Shelton's Turkey Ranch started in 1924 with one hen and one tom that had been given to Mr. & Mrs. Shelton as a wedding gift. It evolved into a champion breeding facility that received many awards for body conformation and feather color. As an offshoot of the trophy breeding business, the Shelton family began growing holiday turkeys for the folks in the Pomona Valley of Southern California. As demand for the broad-breasted Shelton turkey grew, the emphasis was placed on growing turkeys for the holiday market.

"When the second generation Shelton farmer, Fred, died in 1969, the Flanagan family, Shelton's largest distributor, purchased the ranch and incorporated it into their own distribution business. They soon added chicken production to the mix and eventually began manufacturing and marketing value added products to the natural foods industry.

"From those two turkeys and two people in 1924, Shelton's has grown into the largest Natural Poultry marketer in the country," said the company website, who stresses "our chickens and turkeys don't do drugs."

The family that owns the company also emphasizes that the turkeys are processed by hand. "There are advantages to being a family business like Shelton's. Three generations of our family are involved in running it, and that means that our traditions of quality, value and nutritional integrity are never taken lightly."

For anyone curious about Norbest, the co-operative has a website that outlines its history as well as share recipes, turkey facts and even has a virtual turkey farm tour.

Norbest is celebrating its 76th year existence, with some fourth-generation turkey farms helping contribute to Thanksgiving dinners here in the west.

Norbest’s website outlines some of its history, if anyone was wondering if there is a northwest connection.

“Norbest, Inc., headquartered in Midvale, Utah, is a federated marketing cooperative dealing exclusively with turkeys and value-added turkey products. It is the oldest cooperative organization of its type in the world, and is one of the top turkey marketing firms in the United States.

“Norbest's cooperative members include turkey producer/processor cooperatives in the states of Utah and Nebraska, consisting of approximately 125 independent turkey growers.

“Norbest had its early roots in the early 1920’s as a producer-owned marketing cooperative called Utah Poultry. In 1930 Utah Poultry, along with other related businesses from Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and Nevada combined to form the first regional turkey marketing co-op in the United States. Its headquarters was established in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 9, 1930. The new cooperative was known as Northwestern Turkey Growers Association,” said the company website.

“The objectives of the new association were to “produce and pack a higher grade of birds, to establish a known quality ... to eliminate as much speculation as possible ... and pack a product, using federal grades, of uniform standard quality that will command both respect and the confidence of buyers.” In its first year of operations, the co-op had revenues of $1 million dollars on 3.5 million pounds of product; a far cry from the 125 million pounds annually produced by Norbest today.”

Norbest has undergone some changes in its members, its markets, and finding ways to help people cook the turkey or to get people to consider it as an everyday menu item.

“All this growth has been built on traditions of high quality and the strength of a popular brand name. The Norbest brand is one of the world’s best known and respected. Norbest products are sold throughout the United States as well as in Pacific Rim countries, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Middle East,” said the company.

“Membership in the Norbest cooperative has changed a few times over the 69 years of its existence, as local farmer co-ops have merged, dissolved, or changed focus. Today the members of the Norbest, Inc. cooperative are Moroni Feed Company in central Utah, and Nebraska Turkey Growers Cooperative in Nebraska.”

As for some of the interesting turkey facts, Norbest includes:

Turkeys are a variety of pheasant and have roamed the world for about 10 million years.

The Aztecs may have been the first to domesticate the turkey.

When Christopher Columbus came across the turkey in the New World, he called it tuka: something about his mixed up geography knowledge at the time and still thinking he was in India. He carried some turkeys back to Europe, and needless to say, they were a big hit, and by 1530 turkeys were raised domestically there.

Ben Franklin lost his bid to make the turkey the United States’ national bird, instead of the bald eagle.

Forget the image of the Wild West and cattle drives. There used to be turkey drives, including a case of moving them over the Sierras in California to Carson City, Nev.

And yet another piece of trivia from the website: “Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 25 miles an hour.”

Just a wild guess, but probably one would guess that no matter how “free to roam the outdoors” the turkeys are these days at certain farms, turkey growers prefer to keep their turkeys domesticated rather than wild.

They’re much easier to catch.

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