The COVID pandemic has affected everything else, so of course it will have an impact on Thanksgiving dinner. Family gatherings will be small, intimate affairs. Smaller gatherings mean less demand for twenty-four-pound turkeys. Supermarkets are ordering more small turkeys, more hens and fewer toms. Growers are slaughtering their birds earlier.
Does this mean distributors’ freezers will be filled with unsold twenty-pound birds? Taking the Wayback Machine to 1953, we see ten railroad cars filled with 260 tons of frozen turkeys the Swanson Company had not been able to sell by Thanksgiving. Refrigeration only worked when the cars were moving. The train rumbled back and forth between Swanson’s headquarters in Nebraska and the East Coast while executives figured out what to do.
The solution was to put slices of turkey on partitioned aluminum trays along with sweet potatoes and cornbread stuffing. Thus was born the TV Dinner. In the first full year of production, Swanson sold ten million frozen dinners, turkey, beef, chicken and others. The company’s timing was good; by 1954, sixty-four percent of American homes had television. (A decade later, it was ninety percent, in time for the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.)
If a frozen holiday dinner is not appealing, Williams-Sonoma is taking orders for Willie Bird free-range turkeys. Prices start at $139.95 plus shipping.
During my twenty years in Santa Rosa, planning a turkey feast usually included a short drive to the Willie Bird store. Willie Bird’s farm was in the hills behind the store. Family-owned for four generations, Willie Bird was woven into Sonoma County life. The county fair or farmer’s markets or most other outdoor events typically included Willie Bird’s barbecue, grilling drumsticks. Willie Bird’s restaurant was a mainstay in Santa Rosa for years.
Diestel Family Ranch, also in California, purchased Willie Bird this past summer. The new owner says the Willie Bird name will continue. The restaurant was sold last year and now operates as “The Bird.”