We are used to rating turkey meat but few of us have sampled a turkey egg. Why is that?
Early in the twentieth century the move towards the industrialisation of egg production led to the hen ruling the roost, thanks to a combination of biological and economic factors. The maternal instinct of a bird to sit on its eggs and incubate them, known as broodiness, a major inhibitor to large-scale egg production, had been successfully bred out of domestic hens while turkey hens still had a propensity to follow their natural instincts. Hens were also more prolific egg layers, producing in a year around three times more than the paltry hundred that a turkey laid. They also started producing eggs much earlier in their life cycle, after nineteen or twenty weeks compared with the seven to eight-month wait before a turkey began laying.
Then there is the relative size of the birds to consider. An average sized turkey tips the scales at around sixteen to seventeen pounds compared with a 3-to-4-pound chicken and is more expensive to feed. It also takes up more room, occupying the space that would accommodate eight hens. More costly to feed and accommodate and with a longer wait until they became economically productive, the turkey was an expensive proposition to be used solely as a source of egg production. For the farmer it was more profitable to incubate the egg and raise and slaughter the bird for its meat.
The pure economics of production has made the turkey egg, for the consumer, a rarity, and a costly one at that. Specialist turkey egg producers can command a premium, with the going rate the equivalent of the cost of nine free range hen’s eggs, the perfect treat, perhaps, for a Christmas breakfast.
Such has been the decline in the fortunes of the turkey egg that for nearly a century it has barely merited a mention in cookery books. Recipes blithely assume that the aspiring cook will have hen’s eggs at their disposal. Anyone seeking to invoke the spirit of Alexis Soyer has to remember that a turkey egg contains 60% more liquid than a hen’s, otherwise a culinary disaster may ensue.
Ardent Bucklandites may also want to consider a trip to Huntly in Illinois on the day before Thanksgiving, where last year (2021) the Parkside Pub held its 39th Turkey Testicle Festival. The event, which started in 1983 but was forced to have a year off in 2020 because of Covid restrictions, promised revellers 1,200 pounds of turkey testicles to buy and eat, along with other foodstuffs. About the size of large olives, they go well with a cocktail and can be prepared using any recipe for sweetbreads.
There is more to turkey than wings, breasts, and legs, it would seem.