Eat and grow: A homemade Thanksgiving meal to remember

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 22, 2013

This week’s article is special for Thanksgiving. As with all Thanksgivings, many things must come together to make it work. This article features raising your own turkey, turkey safety and how to grow herbs that will spice up some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.
With the holidays just around the corner, the one thing we can count on being on the menu is turkey. The following information will help you get started with raising your own turkeys for the holidays.
When ordering your poults (baby turkeys), try to order them from a local hatchery. Their brooding box should be inside if possible. Make sure that the temperature is 100 degrees, about two inches from floor of the brooding box. Also, allow for ample room for them to move around in case it gets too hot. Make sure to pre-order your turkey starter feed because some stores may have to order it.
Once they reach about 6 to 8 weeks of age, switch them to a turkey growing ration that has been medicated to prevent blackhead disease. Turkeys are extremely vulnerable to this disease and can die very quickly. Most turkeys will reach full maturity and be ready for slaughter by 6 months. When you are ready to slaughter the birds, remove feed 24 hours before and water 12 hours before.
There are numerous processing plants that can handle processing your turkey. Cooperative Extension can also help educate you in processing your own turkey. Once processed, your bird is ready for the oven or the deep fryer. These tips will get you started, but feel free to contact Thomas Cobb at the Rowan County Cooperative Extension office for more information 704-216-8970.
Turkey is a Thanksgiving staple that is synonymous with the holiday. The tips below will help you create a safe and delicious meal.
• Perfect portions — Prior to selecting your turkey, you must know how much turkey you will need for your guests. The rule of thumb is that you will buy about 1 pound per person or a pound and a half per person if you have hearty eaters or want ample leftovers. Butterball has a site to assist you with figuring potions
• Use a meat thermometer — A whole turkey and turkey parts are safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
• Make sure you have a roasting pan large enough for the turkey.
• Allow an adequate number of days to refrigerator-defrost a frozen turkey. There are only two other recommended thawing options: cold water and microwave. Do not thaw on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases bacteria growth. Thawing safety:
• Wash hands, sinks, counters, utensils and platters thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after working with raw turkey.
• Remember to remove the giblet bag from inside the turkey.
• Stuff just before roasting or cook stuffing separate from the turkey.
• Allow the cooked turkey to sit for at least 20 minutes before carving. This makes the turkey easier to carve.
• After the meal, cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
• Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days.
Growing herbs can be fun and easy. They are also a great addition to any dish for a great Thanksgiving banquet. Some of the most commonly used herbs for Thanksgiving are sage, thyme, bay leaves and rosemary. This section is specifically on sage, thyme and rosemary. All prefer a location with full sun; they also need a pH of around 6 to 6.5.
If this is your first time growing herbs, get a soil sample to see if any amendments are necessary. Most herbs can be grown in containers as well, but since these are perennials, place them in a location they will be content with for a few years. All can take up a considerable amount of space if their growing conditions are right. Once planted, wait until their roots are established before you start lightly harvesting their leaves. After about a year or so, the herbs should be able to supply your culinary needs. Rosemary can be used on skewers. It is also great on potatoes or roasts. Thyme is great for brines, roasts and vegetables. Sage is excellent in stuffing and on roasts. All can be dried. Their flowers are even edible
Here is a brine recipe using herbs:
12 ounces orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 sliced orange
1 sliced lemon
1 sliced lime
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 cloves pressed garlic
2 bay leaves
1 cup kosher salt
1 1/2 gallons water

Combine the orange juice concentrate, orange slices, lemon slices, lime slices, thyme, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, salt and water in a large stockpot; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.
Wash and dry your turkey. Make sure you have removed the giblets. Place the turkey, breast down, into the brine. Make sure that the cavity gets filled. Place the bucket in the refrigerator. Allow turkey to marinate one to two days before cooking. Remove the turkey carefully. Drain and discard the excess brine. Pat dry.
Cook the turkey as desired, reserving the drippings for gravy. Keep in mind that brined turkeys cook 20 to 30 minutes faster.
*To enhance this recipe, make an herb butter to put on top of the turkey: Melt one whole stick of butter, and mix in 2 tablespoons of dried thyme and 1 tablespoon of garlic powder. Pour this mixture all over the top of the turkey.
We also increased the brine ingredients and added a few more:

2 lemons sliced
2 limes sliced
8 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons black pepper
4 tablespoons dried thyme
6 bay leaves
You can modify the recipe however you would like. We also reserved the drippings after cooking the bird to make delicious gravy.

For more information on this article, contact your local Cooperative Extension agent at 704-216-8970.