I’ma fry up a coupla turkeys, and I’ma do a duck. In one of the turkeys I’m gonna stuff a Cornish Hen, and then I’m gonna put the Cornish Hen inside the turkey. So it’s gonna be called, “My turkey is having a baby day.”
Until about the middle of the last century, most of the turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving would have been what we now call “heritage breeds,” including the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, White Holland, Naragansett, and Jersey Buff varieties. These turkeys are gorgeous, hardy creatures, developed in Europe and America over hundreds of years and rich in flavor. Though they are the ancestors to the Broad-Breasted White, a sort of made-up breed that arose in the 1960s with the advent of industrial turkey farms (the Broad-Breasted Bronze was mostly abandoned because its dark pinfeathers put off consumers), they bear little resemblance to that now ubiquitous bird in taste or texture.
Today more than 99 percent of turkeys sold in America come from the roughly 270 million raised on factory farms each year. These birds are bred to be so literally broad-breasted that by the time they are 8 weeks old, they are too fat to walk, much less procreate—every Broad-Breasted White on the market is the product of artificial insemination. They are kept in giant barns, given antibiotics to prevent disease, and fed constantly so that they reach maturity in almost half the time it takes a heritage turkey. The result is bland, mushy meat that we have come to equate with tenderness, but in reality processors inject the dressed birds with saline solutions and vegetable oils to improve “mouth feel” and keep the oversize breasts from drying out.