Stay Connected
November 21 2009

Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips

By Worker Bee

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and in the United States this means one thing: turkey. No other foods seems to dominate a holiday like this large bird and the mind-boggling demand (an estimated 45 million turkeys are eaten for Thanksgiving) has created some unsavory practices amongst turkey producers.

Beginning in the 1960s grocery stores started selling a breed of bigger, plumper turkeys known as Broad-Breasted Whites. This turkey is bred for one main reason: it’s cheap to raise, primarily because it’s genetically modified to grow quickly. Turkey producers can maximize their profits and provide what they think consumers want: birds with more white meat. But the thing is, all that white meat makes a turkey cook and taste different. In fact, it is probably Broad-Breasted Whites (not your mother’s cooking skills) that are to blame for decades of dry, flavorless Thanksgiving turkeys. Even worse than dry meat, the genetic modifications to Broad-Breasted Whites leave them unable to fly or reproduce without artificial insemination.

By far, the Broad-Breasted White is the dominant breed of turkey sold in grocery stores. In the 1990s, it almost put other breeds of turkey into extinction. Luckily, organizations and turkey producers dedicated to preserving culinary heritage and to fighting against industrialized food production have been diligently protecting natural breeds of turkeys that have been around since our forefathers. Collectively, these breeds of turkeys with colorful names like Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze and Narragansett are known as Heritage turkeys. In recent years, as consumers have become more interested in where and how their food is grown, Heritage turkeys are enjoying a surge in popularity.

Heritage turkeys are more expensive to buy, ranging from $6.00-$12.00/pound, because they are more expensive to raise, taking up to 30 weeks to grow to close to 30 pounds while a Broad-Breasted White can reach that weight in just 18 weeks. Why splurge on a Heritage turkey? For starters, they are not genetically modified to maximize breast size and meat. Heritage turkeys have more fat and more dark meat, which helps keep the meat moist while cooking. The meat has a richer, heavier texture and more intense flavor, rich and robust and slightly gamey – what a “real” turkey is supposed to taste like.

Heritage turkeys can be bought from some local butchers and from Whole Foods Markets. Mary’s Turkeys does not sell directly to consumers, but does provide a listing of where their Heritage turkeys are sold. Heritage Foods and Local Harvest ship directly to consumers, but their prices are higher than most retail stores.

Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food instead of profits. Pair your Heritage turkey with any number of our favorite Primal Thanksgiving sides and you’re guaranteed to have a very Happy Primal Thanksgiving.

Ingredients: (based on a 12 pound turkey)

  • Turkey. For a Heritage turkey, allow 2 pounds of uncooked turkey for every person. This will yield enough cooked meat for Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers the next day.
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a knife until powdery
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus extra sprigs to stuff in turkey cavity
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth


Remove turkey from refrigeration 1/2 hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 350 and set the oven rack in a low position. Remove the innards (neck and giblets) from the cavity of the turkey and set aside.

The neck can be roasted next to the turkey or simmered in soup. The giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) can be sautéed in a little butter or oil and eaten as a separate meal or snack. Rinse the turkey inside and out with cool water and pat dry. Combine melted butter with fennel seeds, parsley, salt and pepper. You can also add minced garlic if you like. Drizzle the melted butter over the entire turkey. You can also loosen the skin, pull it up and rub some of the butter directly onto the meat.

Add broth to roasting pan and set bird in the pan, preferably elevated on a rack, breast side up. Insert a meat thermometer straight down through the thickest part of the breast – if you have an instant read thermometer, do not leave it in the bird; insert it later to check the temperature. After an hour, check the bird.

If the skin is getting too dark on top you can cover it with aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time. Roast until the meat registers at 160 –165 degrees, basting occasionally with pan drippings.

As a general rule of thumb, a 12 pound turkey typically takes around 2 1/2 hours to cook. A 15-25 pound bird can take 2-3 hours and a 25-30 pound bird can take 3 – 3 1/2 hours.

Once the thermometer hits 160, remove the bird from the oven and let rest with a loose covering of foil for 20-30 minutes before carving.

Mashed parsnips are the perfect substitution for potatoes. The flavor of parsnips is earthy and slightly sweet. You can enhance the sweetness by adding cinnamon and nutmeg, or opt for just salt and butter for a more savory side.


  • 4 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup cream, optional
  • butter and salt to taste
  • optional: 1/4 teaspooon nutmeg and cinnamon


In a deep saucepan, combine parsnips with chicken broth and 1 1/2 cup water. With a lid, simmer until very tender (about 20 minutes).

Drain off broth. Mash parsnips with a fork or potato masher. Add enough broth back to the parsnips, and cream if you’re using it, until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and butter taste.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

56 thoughts on “Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. this looks like a great recipe to use. I’m picking up my heritage turkey today- it’s costing me $50 for a 12 lb bird, but I would not do it any other way! This will be my first bird since becoming PB (was vegetarian for 20 yrs until this spring). Am looking forward to sharing my Primal thanksgiving feast with 9 friends!

    1. I’m with you, Marci! I was vegan for 8 years up until I went primal in early October. I’ve lost 12 pounds already – and am REALLY looking forward to that Thanksgiving turkey. 🙂 Enjoy!

  2. “Buying a Heritage turkey is like casting a vote for humanely, naturally raised animals and for the farmers who are putting a premium on healthy, safe, natural food instead of profits.”

    A vote that costs 12-24 times more to cast. Talk about disenfranchisement of the working class. With that said I am extremely grateful our family is in a position financially that we can even concern ourselves with such issues.

    1. this is such an unfortunate dilemma. it is easy to cast this vote if you have the money…

  3. dude… always brine your turkey… looks like a great recipe and as always some great info

    thanks mark

  4. Turkey looks wonderful!

    Parsnips are a great idea! I was planning on doing mashed cauliflower or zucchini (lower carb). I’m a mash lover, so maybe I’ll do a combo or parsnips in addition 🙂

    1. Definitely going to try the parsnips with the coconut milk. Thanks for the recipe Adam!

  5. I agree, always brine your turkey.I have for years. I set it out in a tub or bucket of water/kosher salt/lemon. 6 hrs later the water is disgusting.Leave it overnight at least. The brine pulls all the blood and funk out of the flesh and cavity..leaving the meat clean and seasoned some too! Delicious. We will be having real mashed pots,corn and the like as I am the only paleo/primal one, and I am feeding the family. I will have primal options of course..

  6. It seems the average person is disappointed when trying a heritage bird, due to it not tasting better and being generally tougher, and smaller. Less meat.

    Are these people I’m reading about just getting bad birds or am I supposed to pay more and expect less?

    1. it really depends on the breed of heritage turkey you wind up with. Some are awesome and some are very very close to wild turkeys which means they have little meat and are a lot tougher. The best heritage breeds in order are Midget Whites & Bourbon Reds (blind taste test through Slow Foods) Narragansetts taste like wild birds and I was told to avoid them. I just picked up my pastured broad breasted bronze which is 19 lbs, meaty and delicious! (I have had this kind before and it was awesome although I do not believe it was a heritage breed)

    2. We raise our own heritage turkeys.. never saw much of a difference in the taste between “breeds”.. so most of ours are becoming a mix between heritage bronze, bourbon red, nargansette, oregon grey and palm. None of ours have ever been tough or gamey.. must be how y’all are cooking or handling them after they are slaughtered. After eating our own home raised heritage birds I will never go back to a store bought bird again!

    3. Pasture-raised poultry and meats require different cooking methods. If you cook a pastured turkey at the same temperature as conventional, you’ll get a tough, stringy result. I’ve read the explanation in the past having to do with how the proteins of animals that actually get exercise during their lifetimes respond differently during the cooking process. Brining, marinating, and lower cooking temperatures will make a big difference in tenderness in a pastured bird. This includes chicken and duck too.

      We’ve been getting pastured turkeys for the past five years, and they always turn out tender and delicious. The meat is still though, a different texture than conventional birds, which to me have a kind of mushy texture. A well-raised, well-cooked pastured turkey is in a league of its own.

      As far as how much meat, it’s true pastured turkeys often don’t have those huge breasts like the conventional ones that can’t even walk because their breasts are so heavy. Still though, a larger bird will have more meat-to-bone, (which is also the case with store-bought turkeys.) And, you can always use the bones to make broths and soups. There’s nothing like homemade soup made with pastured turkey bone broth – such a rich, delicious full-bodied flavor, and very nourishing.

  7. what about turnips? i was given a mass amount and am wondering how to make them delicious!

    i have never tasted a heritage breed turkey, but pasture raised chickens do taste way better to me, and i pay 4$/lb for them vs. organic barn-raised birds at 1.99/lb. no toughness at all.

  8. I’m not in charge of the turkey buying, and we are feeding a lot of people so this wouldn’t really be practical. As a guest I just go with the flow… I get my bacon and eggs cooked for me most mornings of the holiday week so I’m not going to complain too much.

    I agree with the last post… the pasture-raised meat I buy at the farmers’ market tastes way better… but you don’t know until you have a taste of the regular stuff. Then you are like, wow, this has NO TASTE… especially with steaks. There is definitely a flavor.

    The turkey pics look great! I’m salivating.


  9. PLEASE, get your terminology right…the Turkey’s are not genetically modified as the moajority of people would understand the term, the variety has been developed over many generations to have desirable characteristics by selectively breeding them. Even your heritage Turkeys are selectively bred – they ARE NOT naturally occurring. Same thing with cows, chickens, sheep, etc. etc. Man has done the same with the tomato. A natural tomato is small green and poisonous. Through countless generations man has selectively bred a big juicy red tomato. Just because something has been manipulated by man, doesn’t make it bad. I would happily eat a free-range Broad-breasted White Turkey but I would never eat a factory farmed bird. If you’re going to tell someone how bad something is for them because of the process used to make it, apply it across the board. You can’t eat your heritage Turkey with one hand whilst eating your genetically modified tomato, potato and pumpkin with the other.

    1. The man has a point. Not sure if the turkey is GMO or not… but pretty much everything in a store is also selectively breed or GMO for sure.

    2. I very well could eat both things with both hands. 😉

      Thanks for sharing this info! Have a great holiday!

    3. It’s true conventional turkeys aren’t genetically-engineered in the sense we understand it in recent years. Their genes aren’t mixed with genes of another species – they are what they are due to selective breeding. However, something to keep in mind is that conventional poultry, (along with beef, pork, lamb, and other livestock) ARE fed GMO grains. You are what you eat, and while it’s true heritage-breed, pastured turkeys are more expensive, if you get to know your farmer you can be assured the selectively-bred turkey, whether a heritage or ‘modern’ breed, on your Thanksgiving table has not been fed GMO corn and soy. The way I see it, if the turkey was fed GMO feed, you’re consuming GMOs.

  10. I was in my local healthy food market today and it was selling Heritage turkeys … for about $140. :O

  11. Call me a softie, but I almost cried reading about the poor turkeys. I am currently not in a financial position where I can just buy grass-fed all the time. I hope I can find some heritage turkeys on sale after Thanksgiving. And if I can’t afford a heritage turkey at Thanksgiving, then I won’t eat turkey. ‘Nuff said.

  12. My kids and I had the opportunity to assist in the harvest of our heritage turkey this year… my friend, farmer Linda, raised a handful and we were able to watch them grow up. We can’t wait to experience the first bite from farm to fork. Also going to enjoy farmer Carl’s butternut squash and grandpa’s homegrown parsnips and sweet corn. This is what it’s all about. Thanks for the great recipes and I want to know about those shoe/sock things in the profile picture!

  13. This is my second year of purchasing a pastured turkey from a local (sort of) farmer. We go right to the farm to pick it up, fresh, which is half the fun! Last year’s was seriously the best turkey ever. The farmer says her pastured turkey’s are high in CLA, which isn’t present in any other poultry. It costs more, but I know what I’m getting! As a side note, I mentioned to her that our local grocery store was now selling pastured turkeys for around $.04 more per pound than hers. She said the farmers that sell to stores usually get only half of what they charge you for it. So support your local farmer, and buy direct, if you can!

  14. Best Thanksgiving turkey I ever had was a wild hen shot by a friend of mine in the Penn woods. Tough? Not at all. Different tasting than your usual Butterball? You bet–and a big, big improvment indeed. The breast had a stronger flavor that was a touch “nutty.” As for being gamey, no way. “Gamey,” for the most part, is nothing but a euphamism for “spoiled.”

    Sadly, none of us have succeeded in getting a wild turkey this year.

  15. Look… it’s not as expensive as you think to get a pastured turkey. It’s just that we are used to dirt cheap factory food.
    I compared prices on a website with an inflation calculator. As it turnes out, I’m not paying any more for my pastured turkey than my great grandparents did in 1940 whith inflation figured in.

  16. I’m reading this with more than a touch of envy since I’ve yet to find pastured turkey of any description.
    The point was made that everything we eat is GMO and while it’s true that we’ve fiddled with everything we always had to answer fairly quickly to Mother Nature. Now we have new ‘smart’ techniques but I expect Mother Nature will still have her say in the end and we (non paleo) will not be happy campers when that card gets played.