Tasty T-Day Science: Domestic versus wild gobblers?

Thanksgiving can certainly be done without turkey – in fact, lots of families choose any other meat besides the gobbler. But for some, nothing suits the tradition quite the same as a big bird in the oven (with apologies to PBS).

But like many domesticated species, the turkeys commonly sold in grocery stores are about as far-flung from their roots as you could imagine them to be, and still be turkey. Domestication of turkeys began in Mexico, the earliest known record of which comes to us from the Maya about 100 years BC. Over the centuries, the domesticated turkey became a pale white bird that many say pales in comparison to its wild brethren.

Wild turkey makes its presence known.
Photo: pfsullivan_1056 @

The wild turkey, which is generally the one you see pictures of around this time of year, is a noble-looking specimen that Ben Franklin once gushed had qualities much better suited to be the emblem of the United States. The most common species, the ocellated turkey, sports the iridescent green feathers that old Ben found so fetching.

The classic roaster bird, as yet unroasted.
Photo: clacey2 @

Domesticated turkey tend to be much larger than the wild ones, the most modern varieties having pronounced breasts because, well, we just dig breasts in this country. They have a completely different diet than wild turkey: domesticated turkeys tend to eat an enriched pellet diet of corn and modified nutrients. Wild turkey eat a much more various diet, including nuts, insects and berries.

So, how does this affect taste? Well, wild turkey tend to live longer than domesticated turkey for obvious reasons. And that longer life means more fat on the older gents than the young ones. The result is more flavour and what many describe as surprisingly tender meat for a wild animal – wild animals working their muscles more tend to have stringier, chewier meat. Also, the diet of the bird is going to have a dramatic impact on its taste, and the varied diets of wild turkey make it difficult to be too specific on their tastes. What one clutch of birds eats may not be the same as the next.

Also, a word on the modern trend of “heritage birds.” These birds are basically a re-domestication of the standard wild species, which includes a number of custom breeds. While these birds certainly look the role of a wild turkey, the diet and exercise of these birds is closer to that of any other variety of domesticated birds. In short: same diet, less meat. To each their own, but it is difficult to imagine how this is an improvement on the standard domesticated bird.

Finally, it is worth noting that the wild turkey is something of a modern environmental stewardship success story. As recently as the early 1900’s (some of us were born in that century), the stock of wild turkeys hovered around a paltry 60,000 continent-wide. But a successful program of trapping birds in densely-populated areas and releasing them in less-populated areas has ballooned that population to well in excess of 6 million delicious, delicious animals.

So don’t feel as though you’re threatening a species! Your carnivorous lust only extends to one bird per season. Plenty to go around!


The Great DFE (musical) Turkey Hunt! Happening now!

Call me crazy, but I’ve never really been able to “get” the whole Thanksgiving thing. As a kid, I found the holiday annoying because it meant my cousins and I (which in reality, just meant me I since I was the youngest and smallest) would get stuck washing a ton of dishes while the adults napped. They would of course always wake up right around the time the dishes would be done and want coffee and pie which would then mean more dishes to wash, so yeah – I can’t really remember ever looking forward to Thanksgiving.

As an adult, I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. Never mind the fact that the holiday’s historical relevance makes no sense whatsoever, I’m just not a fan of gorging myself to the point of being stuffed , nor do I enjoy shopping, so for me, it’s always just been a random paid holiday, which is fine in my book. Sure, taking inventory of the things you’re thankful for is great practice, and since I couldn’t care less about the holiday for myself, I plan to spend it volunteering somewhere, which I’m sure will be a great way to spend my time. However, as a whole, I still give Thanksgiving a giant WTF. Sorry, Mr. Turkey.

While I may not be big on Thanksgiving, I do very much enjoy both music and embracing the ridiculous things in life; and what says “Happy Thanksgiving!” quite like a playlist full of the worst songs ever to make their way into your ear canals? According to us here at DFE, nothing! So that’s exactly what we’re doing – Turkey Day Turkeys, coming your way just in time for Thanksgiving 2012!

If you’re like me and the biggest celebration you have on your Thanksgiving agenda is a Bloody Mary while watching the Macy’s Parade (and I know there are at least a few of you out there!), help us rack our brains for the best – and by default, worst – songs you’ve ever heard in your dentist’s chair or gyno’s waiting room and let us have it in the comment section below! At the very least, it will give you something to torture your dish washing slave younger cousins with after your dinner buzz.

So, Spotify friends, to keep up with the list, subscribe to our set list here.

Science Uncategorized

Tasty T-Day Science: don’t forget your edible lilies!

When he was a kid, my father was famous in our family for his contempt for onions. In fact, my grandmother went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to hide onions in her cooking, because she knew if he saw even the smallest sliver of the offending white bulb, that would be the end of the meal.

But she couldn’t possibly have cooked most traditional foods without the onion. It is nearly ubiquitous in the food world: mirepoix, sofrito, the holy trinity, suppengrün, w?oszczyzna, refogado. These are all names of traditional cooking bases and all contain the pungent sweetness of the onion along with a few other ingredients like peppers, celery or carrots.

An onion's flower. Very pretty, yes?

But did you know that the onion is actually a cousin of the lilies we grow in our gardens? And not onions alone, but onions, garlic, scallions and shallots all descend from the same plant family. In fact, edible flowers enjoyed a certain popularity recently and included some types of straight, garden-variety lilies.

Don’t think you should go out and start munching on the lilies at Wegmans, however: many of the varieties we enjoy as garden flowers are actually slightly poisonous. They won’t kill you, but they’ll ruin your evening.

Lilies like most flowers originate in China and their use in cooking has ancient roots across Eurasia. They are even featured on some Egyptian monuments.

And your Thanksgiving meal will not be complete without these tasty bulbs, either. A cursory Google search reveals dozens of preparations, including cassaroles, caramelized and (yuck) creamed onions for your delectation. Personally, I’ll be happy with a few in the stuffing, but I guess that’s Thanksgiving for you: everybody’s got their own traditions.


Enjoy Your Latte, Sarah

This one’s been making it’s way around the Internet, of course. Sarah Palin doing an interview about how “brutal” the campaign trail is whilst standing in front of a slaughterhouse for turkeys. Those of weak stomachs will want to turn away, but watch as the stainless steel death machine shudders while she discusses the “levity” of the moment. It recalls Whose Line is it Anyways, when they put the comedian in front of a screen showing videos completely incongruous to what they’re talking about.

And of course in this context, I can’t help but notice that it seems unspeakably inappropriate for any politician – Right or Left, Republican or Democrat, Sage or Dipshit – to be found outside of any building without a latte. What the hell is up with that?



Thankful. . .

Who could be more thankful than a bird on Thanksgiving day who is not a turkey? I can hardly imagine. How happy are those birds? This happy:


This happy:


And yes, even happy enough to engage in autoerotica: