Turkey Tales From Around New Hampshire

Nov 26, 2014

Credit Len Medlock via Flickr CC

When it comes down to it, Thanksgiving is really about one thing:  the turkey.  Especially here in New England. 

When The New York Times put out its map of the Thanksgiving foods represented each state, New Hampshire was awarded the crown prize, the New England Roast Turkey. 

So on this Thanksgiving, we thought we’d bring you some stories all about turkeys—from a restaurant that serves turkey dinners every day to a lawyer raising the bird to a soup kitchen making sure no one goes without the main dish this year.

Hart's Turkey Farm in Meredith
Credit Sean Hurley for NHPR

Every day is Thanksgiving at Hart's Turkey Farm in Meredith

by Sean Hurley

"All the time."

That's Sam Willey. His grandparents opened Hart's in 1954. Willey himself has bussed and waited tables, prepared food, bakes pies. 

Sam Willey, one of the owners at Hart's Turkey Farm
Credit Sean Hurley for NHPR

"I started when I was 7 years old.  Pick up the parking lot was my first duty."

Now Willey's one of the owners.  How does a restaurant that serves Thanksgiving dinners year round top itself on the big day?

"We actually do everything the same," he says.

But just a lot more of it. Mike Cornellison is the executive chef.  On a good day 500 hot plates will emerge from his kitchen.  On Thankgiving, he's expecting to serve well over 1000.

"The hardest part of my day is making sure everything gets up and is hot and fresh cause we are a scratch kitchen here so we make everything from scratch. Today, out back right now I think there's 36 people back there."

Sherry Agengo bakes at Hart's Turkey Farm
Credit Sean Hurley for NHPR

Making rolls, thickening gravy, prepping turkey...or like baker Sherry Agengo, making lots and lots of pies.

"I'm making peach cobbler," Agengo says, "Today, I made over a hundred."

In the busy gift shop out front, the phone doesn't stop ringing. Orders for cranberry sauce, stuffing, for the biggest turkey they have.

"We actually get a lot of calls, why we don't mail gravy?  Maybe one day we'll be there, but I'm not ready for that," Willey says, laughing.

There's nothing in the world that can prepare you for mailing gravy, but if anyone can figure it out it'll be someone from a land where Thanksgiving never ends. 

Mark Sisti: Defense attorney, turkey farmer
Credit NHPR Staff

In Defense of Raising Turkeys

by Sam Evans-Brown

Raising turkeys is hard. Just ask Mark Sisti, New Hampshire's highest-profile defense attorney.

"Oh it’s tricky business. You can’t go out there and just think you can just pull it off the first time."

Yeah, it's actually one of the things I've perfected. I'm still practicing law, but I know how to raise turkeys. - Mark Sisti

Mark Sisti is best-known for his work in New Hampshire courtrooms… when he’s not farming, that is.

"Yeah, it’s actually one of the things I’ve perfected. I’m still practicing law, but I know how to raise turkeys."

Sisti also raises chickens and pigs and keeps horses at his farm in Gilmanton. His self-professed expertise in turkey farming didn’t come easy.

"We have lost many turkeys in the past, from the positioning of where the heat lamps were and the lighting relative to the water. Sometimes they’ll just drown themselves. We’re not talking about the Einsteins of the animal kingdom here."

Animal husbandry is an integral part of Sisti’s law practice: he practices opening and closing statements before assembled throngs of livestock.

While turkeys are in season, they don’t know their jurisprudence.

Sisti made a name for himself defending high-profile criminal defendants in the state, including Pamela Smart.
Credit Screenshot from the 2014 documentary "Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart"

"I can tell you the turkeys are the worst. They have terrible, terrible manners, and frankly are a terrible jury."

Chickens and cats are just as bad. He says dogs listen, but don’t discern.

But the pigs. The pigs, he says…they know.

"Extremely intelligent animals, no question about it."

Unlike turkeys, who ignore him before he even begins, the pigs will listen for five or ten minutes.

"I don’t know if they understand everything that’s being said, but no jury does, and we try to practice as much as we can."

Sisti raises between 20 and 35 turkeys a year. This season he says he didn’t lose a single one… that is until harvest time.

"They are all gone, I don’t miss them. Not a one."

I guess for some, the charm of a Turkey is seeing it on the Thanksgiving table.

Governor Maggie Hassan hands out foot at Nashua's Soup Kitchen and Shelter in November 2014
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

Giving thanks at Nashua's Soup Kitchen and Shelter

by Michael Brindley 

During the Thanksgiving season, not everyone can afford to go out and buy their own turkey dinner. That’s why nonprofits like the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter give out the foods you need to make a meal.

The Nashua Soup Kitchen's new building allows people to come inside to collect food.
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a long line of people shuffle into the Nashua soup kitchen. Executive Director Lisa Christie gives them directions them as they enter the dining room.

Christie says they’ve given away more than 1,100 dinners this year. Each includes a frozen turkey and a food basket.

“It doesn’t really make me feel good to sit down and stuff myself and think that in my community, there might be a family that doesn’t have a turkey or that their kids aren’t getting enough to eat today. So that’s why at Thanksgiving, when we’re supposed to grateful for what we have, it’s a really good time to think about other people.”

She says a big difference this year is people haven’t had to stand outside in the cold while they wait. The soup kitchen recently opened a new building, that more than doubles its space.

“People got to wait inside. They got to go through the pantry and pick out their own food. So it’s been really great.”

Volunteer Mary Flatley helps folks make their way through the pantry, picking out items to go with their Thanksgiving dinner.

“We have carrots. We have heirloom spinach, which we’ve never had here. We have peppers and onions and apples and potatoes.”

The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter's new building
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

Flatley volunteers at the soup kitchen two days a week.

“It’s wonderful. And I love the people. I love them, all kinds who come in. Let them know we’re happy they’re with us.”

Making their way outside, they get their turkey, and as it happens, today they’re being handed out by Governor Maggie Hassan. 

Leaving with bags full of food, those who benefit say they’re grateful.

“I’m very, very thankful. I wouldn’t have a turkey dinner if it wasn’t for this place.”

Do you have a New Hampshire turkey tale to share? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.