Jill Bunting named her turkeys Drumstick and Giblets as a hint of their planned future as an entree on the Twisted Willow restaurant menu, but then they became amusing pets and now they will live happily through Thanksgiving and beyond
Two of the luckiest turkeys around are 40-pound white hens named Drumstick and Giblets.
Instead of ending up on a platter for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkeys are happy roaming around Jill and Richard Bunting’s farm in the Town of Grafton.
When Jill picked up the turkey chicks, called poults, shortly after they hatched on a sunny July day at Saukville Feed Supplies, she fully intended them to become an entree at Twisted Willow, the field-to-fork restaurant she and her brother Dan Wiken operate in Port Washington with their partners.
“We often have turkeys through the season and use them in the restaurant,” Jill said.
“That’s what they were intended for, but they became pets.”
The turkeys will remain on the farm for the rest of their lives, she said.
Jill actually raised three turkeys this year, but one named Gizzard was taken by a coyote. Perhaps that added to her protective instinct for the two survivors.
“There’s no way we can eat them,” she said. “They’re usually the welcoming committee. They come up to everyone and check out their cars. They like black cars. They see their reflection and talk to the bumper.”
They also go on the front porch, jump on a bench and look in the window to see what’s going on, she said.
The turkeys especially love following Dan when he works in the garden, where he grows an array of heirloom tomatoes, greens, root vegetables and other vegetables he serves in the restaurant.
The executive chef had some tasty plans for the fresh birds, but instead thawed a 39-pound tom turkey that Jill raised last year.
Using the largest pot he had, the bird’s legs still stuck out as it simmered in water until it became tender.
“I think it cooked for six hours. It was a tough old bird, but it wasn’t when we got done with it,” Dan said.
He made turkey pot pies using fresh vegetables from the garden that everyone raved about. He also made turkey dumpling soup and cottage pies, which are similar to shepherd’s pies only with turkey stew in a bowl surrounded with potatoes mashed with
rutabagas. There are several quarts of stock in the freezer.
“It makes a really good broth we use in everything,” Dan said. “We got four to five quarts from one big turkey.”
That won’t happen to Drumstick and Giblets, who also have an ally in Dan’s 6-year-old daughter. She loves the turkeys’ antics.
Wild turkeys are prevalent around the farm, but the tame birds don’t seem to notice them.
“They don’t know they’re turkeys,” Jill said.
Drumstick and Giblets hang out with two guinea hens that also roam free.
“They like to visit the white ducks on the pond and the hens in the chicken coop,” Jill said.
Actually, the turkeys are grounded for a while because they wandered a little too far and got into trouble with the law.
“They usually visit our neighbor to the west and they don’t mind, but last Sunday, they went to another neighbor,” Jill said. “He didn’t know what to do, so he put them in a shed and called the sheriff’s department.
“We got a call from the department to pick them up. We decided we better keep them home.”
The turkeys share a barn with a pair of goats that are also pets.
The goats were her son Rick’s 4-H project when he was in third grade. Rick is now an adult.
“They’re really old goats,” Jill said. “They’re our friends, just like the turkeys.”
If Dan Wiken, the Twisted Willow executive chef and gardener, were cooking a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving, he would put it in a sugar and salt brine with sage, thyme, marjoram or other herbs for 24 hours before roasting it the traditional way.
“The sweet and salty taste is great and the herbs add a lot,” he said.
When ready to roast, Dan said, the bird should be dried and rubbed with oil, loosely tented with foil and roasted in a 350-degree oven until a thermometer stuck in the thigh reaches 180 degrees.
“Remove the foil and baste it frequently until it’s golden brown,” he said.
Dan, his sister Jill Bunting and their families gathered Sunday at a cabin at Wilderness Lodge Water Park in Wisconsin Dells for an early Thanksgiving feast with their parents and three sisters. Their mother assigns the dishes they should make.
“Our mother is a creative cook. She has a wall full of cookbooks and will be looking for new recipes all month,” Jill said.
“Everything she makes turns out. I’m the one who had the flop. I once made monkey bread that you couldn’t pull apart. That’s the going joke — don’t let Jill bring monkey bread. For Christmas, my mother gave me a book of monkey bread recipes.”
Image information: Drumstick and Giblets enjoy life on Twisted Willow farm since being saved from the butcher by Jill Bunting. Her brother Dan Wiken (right), executive chef and gardener, had to change his turkey menu plans.
Photos by Sam Arendt