Friending Joe Twomey

joetwomey

by Rosie DeQuattro

Forget Angie’s List, or the Bucket List or even your holiday list.The list you want to be on is Twomey’s List.

Joe Twomey and good friend Tom Pistorino, both of Groton, each keeps an annual list of about 15 names of family, friends and neighbors who have pre-ordered one of the partners’ hand-raised American Bronze Turkeys (considered by several sources to be the first heirloom turkey in America—and endangered). Twomey keeps his pencil-written list close to his heart—on a scrap of paper, in his breast pocket. Pistorino uses a spreadsheet.

When I spoke to Pistorino, he read off a couple of the names from his list. Judi Lacey’s name was at the top. Lacey lives in Pepperell and has been on the list since year one, about 5 years ago. She said, “There’s no comparison between these birds and store-bought turkeys. They are so moist, and you get gallons of gravy.”

Another long-time lister, Darren Berge of Shrewsbury, said, “We’ll never go back to store-bought.” Berge was skeptical at first. He anticipated a tough and gamey-tasting bird that would ruin his mom’s Thanksgiving. So he went so far as to conduct a blind tasting.

“The first year we were on the list we also bought one from a grocery store.” Mom cooked the store-bought turkey at her home in Groton, and his sister cooked the Twomey/Pistorino bird at her own home. “We were very careful not to mix up anything.”

With the family and the two cooked turkeys all assembled at Mom’s, the blind tasting commenced. No one knew the provenance of either turkey. But at the end of the meal all agreed that one bird was tastier, and juicier than the other. “We were absolutely thrilled” that the local bird won the taste test.

For Twomey, the turkey “business” started with a love affair. One Sunday in 1984, the Twomeys (and their eight children) were all out for a Sunday drive, looking at houses for sale, when they fell in love with an old farmhouse on 3 acres just outside of Groton center. It was the first house they saw, at a time when they weren’t even sure where Groton was; most importantly, the house had a barn.

Twomey had been working as a principal in the Lawrence, Massachusetts, public school system. During his 37 years there, he got used to taking home unwanted animals from various abandoned classroom projects (what’s a teacher to do after those cute little bunnies/ chicks/turtles/gerbils/etc. aren’t cute anymore?). Twomey took them all home. He loved caring for animals. The barn at the Grotton house had a chicken coop, and once he and Pistorino completed the barn renovations they decided it would be a good spot for raising turkeys. “It was really Tom’s idea,” Twomey says.

Sitting in his warm and comfortable farmhouse kitchen, Twomey talked earnestly about what he’s learned about turkeys and animal husbandry in general. It’s clear to see the delight he takes in the subject. He’s been receiving a shipment of about 40 one-day-old poults for the past 5 years.

“When the box comes in at 6 a.m., the postmaster in Groton calls me. As soon as turkeys hatch, they drink the liquid in their eggs; it’s their first nutrition. At one day old they are given their first drink of water when they get to my barn. There they’re kept under a heating lamp, and then they just grow like crazy.” Fully grown, at about 16 weeks, the turkeys range in size from 18 to 40 pounds. These are not the ubiquitous Broad Breasted Whites, which are subject to cardiovascular and skeletal problems. These are healthy American Bronze Turkeys—a breed, Twomey said, “that’s been around for 4,000 years.” Lacey dubbed the 28-pounder she got last year “Birdzilla.”

Customers sign up for a bird for a certain price per pound, not for a certain weight. On the day of pickup, you go over to the barn in the evening and take your bird. First come, first served. So if you arrive late you could end up with a 32-pound bird, as Berge did his first year: “We had leftovers for weeks!”

Pickup day is “a New England country affair,” as Lacey puts it. It was on October 23 this year. She describes the convivial event as one imbued with a feeling of fellowship and friendship. There’s a fire pit out by the barn, folks huddled together in the twilight, schmoozing, exchanging recipes, drinkingWild Turkey or hot cider.

“I can’t put a price on what I get from going there—it’s what Thanksgiving is all about. It inspires me to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving all year long.”

Twomey retired from the Lawrence Public Schools in 2001. He doesn’t have a website or a Facebook page or even an email address. You can find him at home in Groton, or at Groton Fest in the fall selling mums and pumpkins, or at the Groton/Dunstable Middle School Council meetings, or at the Commissioners of the GrotonTrust Fund meetings, or working at Our Lady of Grace Parish—did I mention he’s retired?

You can contact Tom Pistorino at bella.villa@charter.net.

Rosie DeQuattro is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Edible Boston. You can read her other food-related stories on her blog, “Food andWine with a Story,” at rosiedequattro.com.