Big Tom Turkey

Surprise your family and friends with a new spin on this old favorite, says Sherrie Rosenblatt, the U.S. National Turkey Federation's director of public relations. It's simple to be creative when you cook with turkey because it's easily seasoned and complements any dish on the table.

"You can change the flavour profile of turkey by altering the cooking method, preparation or both," she says. "Experiment with different rub and marinade seasonings, then try deep frying, brining or grilling for added flavour. The Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey recipe can be easily adapted from the roasting method to grilling or deep-frying techniques. The citrus and garlic flavours are quite complementary to the taste of turkey.

"Be creative with other dishes on the table too. ... Try rice as an alternative to stuffing. Ginger Citrus Rice is low in fat, easy to prepare and packed with flavour.

"Don't forget to use these flavourful leftovers for quick-to-prepare meals. Cooked turkey is an ideal base ingredient for stir-fry dishes, pizzas, frittatas, fajitas, casseroles, chilis, sandwiches, salads and soups."

Tom Turkey Tyson is no longer the world's biggest turkey. He's been KO'd by a huge bird we'll call Frazee Fred, in much the same way that Mike Tyson demolished Marvin Frazier in 30 seconds in a fight for another world title in 1988.

Two years ago, we recounted how Tom Turkey Tyson weighed a massive 86 lb. (40 kg.) dressed. Who would have an oven large enough to roast such a monster, we asked.

[Male turkeys, like male cats. are called toms. Only the toms are gobblers. Females (hens) make a clicking noise. The gobble is a seasonal mating call.]

Tom - as heavy as a German Shepherd dog - was bred by Leacroft Turkeys of Peterborough, England and sold for a record £4,400 at a charity auction in 1989. He must have been almost as large as Sesame Street's Big Bird, whose costume is said to have been made of turkey feathers.

But we've now discovered that Tom was a mere sparrow when matched against Fred, who rules the roost (or rather, the highway) on the other side of the Atlantic, at Frazee, Minnesota. Fred weighs more than 5000 lb. is just over 20ft. tall and 17ft. in width. Some turkey! He's a statue made of fibreglass, erected to promote the area's many turkey farms.

"Turkey Committee chairman Kenny Fett and fiberglass engineer David Oswald of DWO Fiberglass Co., Sparta, Wis., decided to make the bird just a hair larger than its papier-mâché predecessor who fried in a July 1 fire during an attempt to remove it from its perch in anticipation of the new turkey's arrival," reported the Frazee Forum newspaper.

"The turkey fire produced spectacular pictures which have now been turned into T-shirts by the Frazee Community Club; they carry a $12 price tag."

Frazee (population 1200), which claims to be The Turkey Capital of the World, promotes four Frazee Turkey Days every July. Attractions include a Mystery Gobbler contest, water fights, flea market, golf scramble, horseshoe tournament, soapbox racing, kids' games, street dances, and plenty of roast turkey. There's a Miss Frazee Pageant in the High School auditorium and a road rally in which you get bonus points if you're dressed patriotically

You can see a dramatic picture of Frazee's original turkey in flames, and another of its successor, by clicking on ROADSIDE AMERICA

Now let's visit Ho-Ka Turkey Farms, in Waterman, Illinois, 60 miles west of Chicago. They produce 80,000 white turkeys a year.Their largest turkey weighed 47.44 lb. dressed. Owner Robert Kauffman told us its live weight would have been 57 to 60 lb.

Robert's Q & A page tells us a lot we didn't know about turkeys. Here are a few extracts, presented with Robert's permission:

Q. Is it true that turkeys cannot mate naturally?

A. Yes, the commercial turkeys breast is too large for natural mating to be successful. All turkeys are artificially inseminated.

Q. Are turkeys really stupid?

A. Turkeys have a primitive brain with limited capacity to learn new things. They pretty much get along on their temperament and instincts. They have adapted well to domestication and are less nervous and flighty than previous generations. Also, their natural sense of curiousity has increased and helps them find food, water, and shelter.

Q. Will a turkey look up when it rains and drown?

A. Believe it or not, otherwise intelligent people actually believe this to be true. We raise thousands of turkeys outside, and have never lost one to drowning in the rain.

Q. Are turkeys mean?

A. As a male turkey gets older, he gets very aggressive and fights a lot. As they have patterned on humans, and believe us to be one of them, they will try to pick a fight with you.

Q. How do you tell the hens from the toms?

A. It is nearly impossible to tell them apart until they mature. They are sexed at the hatchery, and raised separately. Once they mature, the toms are noticeably larger, with a longer leg. Also, toms will grow a beard, which is a black coarse feather, that appears in the middle of their chest. Their head and their wattles, which is a fleshy growth under their chin, will be larger. His snood, which is a fleshy growth on top of his bill, will be longer and hang down the side of his face. Toms are the only ones who strut and gobble.

Q. Which are better, hens or toms?

A. There is no difference in eating quality. If you want a turkey up to 18 lb., it's usually a hen, and if you want a turkey larger than 18 lb., it's usually a tom.

Q. Aren't toms tougher?

A. No, this assumption is based on the mistaken belief that toms are quite a bit older at dressing time than the hens.

Q. Is there something in turkey meat that makes you drowsy?

A. Turkey is naturally high in the amino acid l-tryptophane. L-tryptophane is believed to produce a natural calming effect. Milk is also high in this substance, hence the practice of drinking a warm glass of milk before bedtime to promote sleep.

So much for our Christmas story, which leads us to this...

BOXING DAY SPECIAL

On July 26, 1986, Mike Tyson (the world heavyweight boxing champion after whom Tom Turkey Tyson was named) demolished Marvin Frazier, knocking him out after only 30 seconds in the first (and only) round. Now Frazee Fred has avenged that defeat.

Frazier (whose only connection with Frazee, Minnsota, is a somewhat similar name) is the eldest son of former world heavyweight champion, Smokin' Joe Frazier. Marvin Frazier won numerous amateur boxing championship titles, with 56 wins and only two losses. His professional boxing record was 21 wins (eight by knockout) and two losses. Today, he's an aspiring writer and actor.

• You can read Smokin' Joe's interesting bio by visiting the website of his daughter, JACQUI FRAZIER

And you can see pictures of Robert Kauffman and his white turkeys by clicking on HO-KA FARMS.

Copyright © 2002. Eric Shackle.