TALKING TURKEY: The Fresh Firebird & Gobbledygook

Workers are busy at places like Harrison’s Poultry Farm in Glenview where fresh turkeys can be ordered for the holidays.

by Long Hwa-shu

To some savvy cooks, home and professional, frozen turkey is for the birds.

There’s nothing like fresh turkey because it tastes better, they insist. And fresh turkey can be roasted as soon as you get it. Frozen turkey needs to be thawed which can be messy and take days.

But finding a place where you can order a fresh turkey is as difficult as finding a hen’s tooth.

Harrison’s Poultry Farm at 1201 Waukegan Road in Glenview is one. Its phone number is 847.724.0132.

Harrison’s has been in business since 1893. Although it does not raise the birds in Glenview any longer, it gets them from a farm in Minnesota. For this Thanksgiving, the business has already received more than 10,000 orders which speaks volumes for its popularity and quality.

Asked how people find the place, Jim Zimmermann, the third-generation owner, said, “People call us. It’s by word of mouth.” Jim has been minding the store for 40 years.

Kevin, his son, who works by his side, said, “We’re extremely busy.”

You can order a bird from 11 to 28 pounds. You have to pick it up yourself, since delivery is only for restaurants.

Firebird Facts:

If Ben Franklin had his way, the turkey would have been America’s national bird instead of the bald eagle.

Franklin reasoned, quite persuasively, that “eagles have been found in all countries, but that turkey was peculiar to our country.” He could have mentioned that turkey is delicious to eat and highly nutritional and lean.

Americans eat plenty of it – not just on Thanksgiving but increasingly throughout the year to the tune of more than 16 pounds per capita.

A wild turkey on the farm of Gurnee dentist Steven Brucki. - Brucki photo
A wild turkey on the farm of Gurnee dentist Steven Brucki. – Brucki photo

The turkey sold in grocery stores are of a domesticated variety as opposed to the wild turkey. Hens are usually sold as whole birds for Thanksgiving dinner. The male, called Tom or gobblers which can reach 30 pounds in 18 weeks after hatching, are used to make sausages, franks, cutlets and deli meats.

Wild turkeys were nearly wiped out in the early 1900s because of over hunting. Today, they are found in all states except Alaska. They can fly for short distances up to 55 miles an hour. They prefer to sleep in flocks high above ground in trees like oak trees to protect themselves against predators like coyotes, foxes and raccoons.

Turkeys, by the way, are related to pheasants. Only the male can make a gobbling sound and therefore are called gobblers. The females make chirp-like noises. The turkey trot, actually strutting, is used by the male to attract mates. The trot has become a ballroom dance form known for its short, jerky steps.

Turkeys are believed to have been brought to England in 1526 by a Yorkshire man who bought six of them from American Indian traders. Native American Indians hunted wild turkey for food as early as 1000 A.D.

Henry VIII is believed to be the first English king to dine on turkey. Edward VII is credited with popularizing turkey eating at Christmas. For most people in the United Kingdom, a roast turkey dinner has become a holiday tradition.

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the president of the United States. As a custom, the president “pardons” the bird and sends it to live out its life on a historical farm.

By the way, Chinese call the turkey, Firebird. Until recently, turkeys were not even available in China. And when the Chinese first came to this country, it was rare for them to get used to eating it. – Long Hwa-shu

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