The thing I miss most about living in the country? Wildlife. At Mamaw and Papaw’s house, foxes drank out of the creek, deer peeped out of the forest, and the occasional wild turkey lurked in the grass.
Foxes and deer, you saw those a lot. But turkeys were rare. Eastern wild turkey was on the rebound back then.
Due to deforestation, loss of habitat, and market hunting, the birds were on the brink of extinction in North Carolina by the 1950s.
It’s estimated only 2,000 turkeys remained by 1970. Thanks to restoration efforts, turkeys began to flourish once again. Their numbers more than tripled from 1980 to 1990.
Even with the dwindling numbers, Daddy bagged a gobbler every hunting season.
Daddy cleaned the birds up and brought them home to Mamaw. She’d turn them into golden-breasted feasts. She paired them with homemade giblet gravy, sausage dressing, string beans, and biscuits.
I remember those turkeys being the best I’ve ever eaten. They had a richer flavor than the turkeys Mamaw and Papaw raised – and were miles better than anything you can buy at the store.
Anytime I see a wild turkey, I think of those meals. And I see turkey a lot these days. They’re not as rare as they were when I was a kid.
Last time I was in the mountains, we saw turkeys everywhere. Cades Cove. Smokemont. Cataloochee. Brandon says he sees a ton of them out in Johnston County, too. That’s because today, they number nearly 300,000.
Hopefully, that means one day, if I ever get back to living in the country, I’ll be able to recreate Mamaw’s wild turkey feasts.
Have y’all ever eaten wild turkey? If not, have you noticed them wandering around in the countryside?