This year we were thankful for many things, and I can honestly say we truly felt much more connected to, and thankful for the food on our Thanksgiving table, that we were very fortunate to share with good friends.


A great start, Bloomsdale spinach salad

The Curbstone Valley Thanksgiving feast this year included some fabulously flavorful food:

– Bloomsdale spinach salad with pomegranate, Cabernet poached pears, and chèvre
– Dry Cured Homegrown Heritage Turkey
– Crunchy oven roasted potatoes (Delia Smith style, of course!)
– Mashed sweet potatoes with maple and balsamic
– Fresh Blue Lake green beans with Meyer lemon vinaigrette
– Wild mushroom sourdough dressing with apples, leeks, and apple-wood smoked bacon
– Two cranberry sauces and a cranberry relish
– Mr. Curbstone’s fabulous turkey gravy
– Homemade sourdough bread
– Pecan tart with maple whipped cream


Wild Mushroom Dressing


The dressing was made with our own sourdough bread

As this was our first year cooking a true heritage turkey, we weren’t sure which would prove to be the best way to prepare it.  Researching through various texts, and online opinions, the consensus seemed be that there wasn’t one.  Opinions appeared to be evenly divided between the ‘absolutely must brine’, versus ‘definitely don’t brine’ camps, so I decided that overall it likely didn’t really matter, and ultimately would come down to our personal preference.


This turkey was extra special, so we wanted to get it right

For us, after raising the turkey for seven months ourselves, we knew the turkey should have significantly improved flavor over any conventionally grown turkey, so we didn’t want to risk masking that improvement in flavor with brine.  If I’m honest, we never brine turkeys anyway, so why start now?


Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Maple & Balsamic

We decided that for a true comparison to turkeys we’ve previously prepared, we should opt to prepare this bird just as did we did last year, using our traditional dry-cure method.  We coat the inside and outside of the turkey with a blend of anise seed, juniper berries, thyme and marjoram, and kosher salt, and then allow the bird to cure for 3 days in the refrigerator.  Before roasting, the body cavity is then loosely filled with whole clove garlic and garden fresh rosemary.


No, we didn't drop it!* The turkey dry-cures, smothered in herbs and spices for 3 days before roasting

In addition to brining, or not, there was also the issue of oven temperature.  I was raised with the conventional wisdom that ‘low and slow’ roasting temperatures were important for cooking lean game birds so as not to dry them out in too hot an oven.

The dry-cure makes for a fabulously flavored gravy!

However, fat conventionally grown turkeys can ‘take the heat’, and in recent years the trends have been toward fierce oven temperatures (425-450 F) for roasting turkeys. As this bird was significantly more lean than a conventionally grown turkey, I elected for the low and slow method, roasting at 325 F. Two temperature probes were positioned, one in the deep thigh, and one in the thickest part of the breast meat so we could monitor progress.


The 'low and slow' method of roasting resulted in a perfectly moist bird

Our turkey very clearly had good fat pads over the breast meat, but little if any along the legs.  Traditionally we’d place butter under the breast skin before roasting, but this turkey was so fresh that separating the skin from the breast meat was very near impossible.  Instead, before placing the turkey in the oven the leanest parts of the bird were barded with strips of thick-cut bacon.

Just before placing in the oven, the entire bird was brushed with melted unsalted butter.  The turkey was then wrapped up tight with heavy duty foil, and 2 cups of chicken broth were placed in the bottom of the roasting pan.


You can't have turkey without cranberries... we had cranberries THREE ways!

It was interesting to see up to a 20 degree (F) difference between breast and thigh temperatures during the initial phase of roasting, which equilibrated toward the end of cooking.  Once the temperature reached 130F, the foil was rolled back so the turkey could brown toward the end of cooking.  At 160F the bird was pulled from the oven, wrapped very tightly in foil, and allowed to ‘rest’ while we finished preparing the rest of the Thanksgiving meal.

The roast potatoes (front) are a required component of any holiday meal here (photo: C. Roth)

Despite how relatively lean this turkey was, when it came to carving this year’s bird, we were absolutely amazed at how moist this turkey was, far more so than in previous years.

You can't argue with clean plates! (photo: C. Roth)

So to the ‘you must brine a heritage bird believers’, we can emphatically state that although you can, it’s absolutely not required to do so for a succulent bird.


A perfect end to a perfect meal, this pecan tart was served with maple whipped cream

The texture and flavor was unlike other turkeys we’ve prepared previously, the breast meat was amazingly soft and tender, the dark meat was far darker, and much more richly flavored than conventionally grown birds.  We can only deduce that a varied diet, plenty of sunshine, and a good life, made all the difference in the world.

We hope your Thanksgiving was as flavorful as ours!


*I was so busy in the kitchen, I kept forgetting to reach for the camera…this raw cured turkey was from last year, which was also dry-cured (note this was an ‘heirloom’ (NOT heritage) broad-breasted bird…see how much rounder this bird looks?)