Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Broad Breasted Turkeys of Santa Ana

Even as I post it, I fear this Young's Turkey Ranch ad, from the 11-16-1950 edition of the Huntington Beach News, is going to restart all the commotion over historic turkey ranches. And just when we'd gotten everyone calmed down after my last post on this subject! For months, people would corner me after lectures to ask poultry-related questions. I was chased across the fairgrounds by gobbler fans wanting to swap bird-related anecdotes. Also, I received a number of anonymous (and vaguely threatening) letters demanding the stuffing recipes of Orange County pioneer families. 

Frankly, I'm not an expert on the subject. But when November rolls around, what else can an Orange County history blogger fall back on? It's too late for Halloween hijinks in 1920s Anaheim and too early for 1930s Christmas shopping at Rankin's. So it's back to the vintage papers for more old news about dead birds.
The species Meleagris orangecountius in its natural environment.
Even the quasi-comprehensive Jim Sleeper's Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities (with a special sub-section on poultry in Vol. II) has precious little to say about turkeys. Under "Quadrupeds," however, Jim wrote, "Oddest turkey. Reported in the [Santa Ana] Standard (5-16-1891) was a young turkey belonging to Fred McCaffy of that town, which had 'four legs and four eyes and a mouse head.' The account is not clear whether it was Fred or the turkey which 'had been preserved in alcohol.'"

In truth, back when Orange County was primarily agricultural, we had plenty of poultry ranches -- mostly chicken, but also enough turkey that we didn't run out of Thanksgiving drumsticks. Yet somehow, they never got the kind of press that citrus or even celery managed.  

So what do we know about the aforementioned Young's Turkey Ranch?
A quisling turkey (now hiding in Argentina) advertises Young's in a 1954 L.A. Times ad.
George L. Young (1916-1990) came to Orange County from Monterey Park in 1936 and started the successful Western Printing Co., but wished he had a job where he could work outdoors. Thus, in 1945, Young’s Turkey Ranch was born, just west of the Santa Ana River on 1st St. The Young’s owned the ranch for 26 years, and sometimes sold as many as 10,000 turkeys around the holidays. During the rest of the year, they also supplied meat to restaurants and stores.

"Yes," I can hear you tryptophan junkies say, "but what were their turkeys like?"

The L.A. Times' "Shopping with Vicky" feature gave an effusive review to Young's  turkeys. To be fair, "Vicky" was an "expert" fabricated by the Times, who would lavish your service and/or product with effusive love and affection (in print) for a fee. (We've heard about women like that!) Accordingly, Vicky was astonishingly diverse in her tastes and interests, from discount lumber to little neck clams.
On Nov. 15, 1962, Vicky breathlessly exclaimed to her loyal readers, "You should be making your plans for those memorable holiday meals and the 'star' of any dinner is Mr. Turkey. I know where you can find the very best, those huge broad breasted, so extra meaty, perfectly cleaned and oven ready birds. Young's Turkey Ranch, 3109 W. Bolsa, Santa Ana, sell only turkeys and the finest turkeys you'll ever find, and oven ready. So many people know that Young's broad breasted turkeys are the best so you should call JE 1-2126 and order your bird now."

Clearly, Vicky never met and adjective she didn't like. And when words failed her, repetition filled the critical gaps. (Did we mention that Young's turkeys are broad breasted and oven ready?) You knew Vicky was sincere because she couldn't write her way out of a paper bag.

As with the rest of Orange County, development caught up with the Youngs. Property values and taxes rose, and in 1959 they turned seven of the farm’s 10 acres into the Quiet Village Mobile Home Park. (Can’t you just hear Martin Denny’s hit version of “Quiet Village” with all the tropical birdcalls replaced by turkey gobbling?) Some of the ranch operations moved out to land near Temecula for a while. But in 1971 the Youngs closed their ranch entirely and opened a body shop and riding stables on the property.
Quiet Village Mobile Home Park in 2003, when its great sign and a bit of its semi-Polynesian theme were still intact.
It's very much the same story as other forms of agriculture in Orange County: Post-WWII development simply made land too valuable to use for fruit, vegetables, and livestock. Thus, today's "old fashioned" Thanksgiving begins with a trip to a supermarket or Costco -- not to a mom and pop poultry farm.

 Somehow, coming home with pigeons you caught at the mobile home park wouldn't be quite the same.


Anonymous said...

That's more information on Orange County turkeys than I ever expected to know. For someone who's 'not an expert', you've provided quite a lot of material.

And I'm pretty confident turkeys should not be fed milk, no matter how broad-breasted and oven-ready someone wants them to be.

Chris Jepsen said...

Shows what you know about it. I have it on good authority that turkeys particularly enjoy milk with their chocolate chip cookies. Drinking it is a problem, however, as their wattles keep hanging into the glass.

JG said...

Hello Chris. I wish Martin Denny had made that album. I guess we'll have to hope Weird Al Yankovic can put it together.

I really enjoy your blog, even though I was never an OC native, it feels like home.

Best to you for the holidays.


Chris Jepsen said...

Thanks, JG. No, there's no Martin Denny Thanksgiving CD. But stay tuned to my OTHER blog and I'll probably write something about tiki Christmas music in the next couple weeks.

Unknown said...

How cool to find a blog like this. I am a one of the great grand children and i remember playing on the farm which in my days was a horse ranch. Grandpa Young was a great man, and yes we had awesome Thanksgivings!!

Paul Duca said...

Go here and check out the 11/16/12 entry


Unknown said...

My great grandfather George L.Young we miss and Love you...we all ways had an awesome thanksgiving