Two Nicholas White turkeys from Foster Farms of Modesto, hand-chosen for their plumage, sociability and good manners, were at the White House Wednesday for their 15 minutes of fame during an official pardon by President Obama.
Escorted by mock Secret Service Agents, the turkeys made their public debut earlier this month at the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco, President Obama’s hotel of choice when visiting the city. The turkeys flew to Washington, D.C. from San Francisco airport courtesy of United Airlines, aboard a flight dubbed “Turkey One.”
North Bay natives may recall that the Nicholas White turkey breed was developed by George Nicholas, a native of Sonoma County who originally raised Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys at the Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms in the Sonoma Valley.
In 1956, he established the Nicholas Oak Hills Research Farm in Napa and hatched the nation’s first white turkey, known for its thick plumage, red head and large wingspan. The Nicholas White turkeys quickly became a culinary staple on the American table.
To celebrate Thanksgiving and the history of the Nicholas bird, Foster Farms asked well-known sommelier Christopher Sawyer of Sonoma to offer a selection of Sonoma County wines to pair with the Thanksgiving feast.
For white or sparkling wine fans, Sawyer suggests using fresh herbs or citrus in the marinade or side dish.
Red wine lovers can adjust the flavor of the gravy by adding a few cups of their favorite red varietal or red blend. Adding strawberries, cherries, dried cranberries and roasted nuts to salads and the stuffing can also build a bridge to a red or dry pink wine.
This year marks the second time in a decade that Foster Farms has been invited to raise the Presidential Birds, who will be rewarded for their hard work and fine breeding with a comfortable retirement at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill, an historic turkey farm in Leesburg, Va.
The National Turkey Federation has presented a turkey to the President of the U.S. since 1947. The pardon was unofficially launched by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and made official by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. However, legend has it that Abraham Lincoln may have pioneered the tradition after his son Tad argued that the bird had a right to live.
Upon maturity, male turkeys known as “toms” like to strut and gobble. As anyone knows who has driven past them on the street, they can become quite aggressive. Female turkeys are known as hens and do not gobble but communicate with clicking noises.
Although it’s unclear what crime turkeys have committed to necessitate a pardon, the birds have made a few unfortunate gaffes at the White House over the years.
In 2001, after the intended Presidential Turkey Freedom jumped on a ledge and tried to run away, President George W. Bush reassigned his pardon to the alternate turkey, Liberty.
And while turkey is often blamed for those pesky, post-Thanksgiving naps, studies have shown that it may be the extra helpings of carbohydrates — potatoes and stuffing and rolls, oh my! — that cause the intense need to sleep.
Last year’s turkeys — Mac and Cheese — were named through an online voting campaign on Twitter, sponsored by the White House. This year, California elementary students will submit names to the White House, which will select finalists for its Twitter campaign (@WhiteHouse).