How the Diestel Family Does Thanksgiving
Editor’s note: This is the latest post in our “You Grow, Girl!” series highlighting female farmers – from the northern reaches of Canada to the heartland of the U.S. From the western coast of Africa to the rolling hills of France and beyond. The series amplifies the voices of female farmers, who play vital roles in agriculture worldwide. Here, they share their unique perspectives on food, family and farming.
This post captures a recent conversation I had with Heidi Diestel, a fourth-generation turkey farmer based in California, about her Thanksgiving traditions and her favorite turkey preparation.
Does Diestel Family Ranch have an affiliation with EPIC Provisions?
The Diestels started working with EPIC in the early days and have been a large part of the No Antibiotic Ever (NAE) turkey supply for the EPIC bars, bites and strips. Last year, we were featured in the EPIC impact Journal and my brother Jason was a guest on EPIC’S Meatcast podcast (Episode 31).
What’s the Diestel Thanksgiving turkey of choice?
Each year, the bird we choose is different. Usually our family picks a large Diestel original turkey. Even though we typically only have about 10 to 15 people at our Thanksgiving table, we always roast a 30-plus pound turkey. Only once a year do we roast a bird that big. That’s because our family loves to cook and loves Thanksgiving leftovers.
What’s the Diestel Thanksgiving meal look like? What accompanies the turkey?
Our family’s Thanksgiving meal is usually quite traditional. The turkey dressing and stuffing is our great-great grandmother’s famous recipe. While for some, stuffing the turkey has fallen out of favor, we find it to be the best way to have the most flavorful dressing around.
Our gravy is a long-time family favorite. We always say that the secret to a fabulous gravy is basting the bird with a buttery, oak aged chardonnay about half to a quarter of the way through the roasting time. The wine gives the gravy a fantastic base flavor. It’s also a Diestel-must to roast the neck in the pan with the whole bird for the gravy. The neck rarely makes it past cooking time onto anyone’s plate for dinner. It is one of the tastiest parts of the bird.
While the sides – garlic mashed potatoes, a fresh mixed greens salad, and delicious homemade rolls – are a family-wide effort, Grandpa Jack, 92-years young, is no doubt the head chef on Thanksgiving. He preps the turkey, creates the stuffing, roasts the turkey, and makes the gravy. Though we all help him as sous chefs, Grandpa Jack is definitely the one running the show.
After the turkey is pulled from the oven and carved, everyone grabs a plate and the turkey is served straight off the bird. Gravy is on the stove and the rest of the sides are lined up buffet style. Our Aunt’s whiskey bread pudding, complete with creme fraiche and whiskey sauce, is always one of the many tasty dessert options, and it’s so good the next day for breakfast.
What’s the family’s turkey roasting technique?
Believe it or not, we use the same roasting technique every year for Thanksgiving. We create a paste of paprika, salt and olive oil or butter. Rub the entire bird with this paste, pour some water in the bottom of the roasting pan and place the turkey in the oven. We send these same roasting instructions home with every single turkey we sell. Though we try all sorts of roasting methods throughout the year, at Thanksgiving we always use this simple roasting style. We feel it puts the taste of the turkey front and center, and that’s what we want to taste on the big day. Maybe that’s our Italian heritage in full swing.
Who attends the family dinner?
We’re very close, so the Diestel Thanksgiving is an intimate gathering, typically with just our immediate family. It’s simple that way and always wonderful to share time together.
How do you spend Thanksgiving Day?
A traditional Thanksgiving Day on the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch is very simple, but the festivities start on Thanksgiving Eve. Thanksgiving Eve is very busy because many local customers are still coming out to pick up their turkey. We prepare for Thanksgiving all year long and take pride in producing the centerpiece of many family’s holiday celebrations. Turkey is a big part of what the holiday is about, and we want our birds to be perfect, every one of them.
We close the ranch at 4:30 p.m., toast our fantastic team to a job well done, and then close up the ranch’s salesroom. At this point, we head up to Grandpa’s house just up the road, and make sure our Thanksgiving turkey is soft and oven-ready for the next day. After that, we head back to my parent’s house to spend time with family and close friends. We gather to toast another wonderful Thanksgiving season at the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch.
This “wild turkey” celebration is potluck style when it comes to the food. One of our close friends is a master gardener, so she usually brings over amazing vegetables we incorporate into the meal. She is a big fan of Diestel compost. It is a night filled with laughs, joy and giving thanks. At around 8 p.m., I jump on the phone and Diestel email to field any last-minute turkey hotline questions.
Thanksgiving morning starts bright and early, typically around 5 a.m. Joan and I get up and begin to field any last-minute turkey questions. While we are on the phone, the boys head up to Grandpa’s to get our large turkey in the oven. At about 8 a.m., we take a little break and head out for a family run through the apple orchards in our neighborhood. When we get back, we have a very casual breakfast, turn on the Thanksgiving Day parade, and head back to the phones and email. At this point, the boys usually head out to check on the ranch. Around 2 p.m., the turkey hotline calls are winding down, and we all get ready to head to Grandpa Jack’s house for dinner. From 3 to 8 p.m., we eat, laugh, and then we eat some more.
Thanksgiving Day with the Diestel family is simply wonderful. It’s always quality time shared with family I love and delicious food we enjoy together. By far, it’s one of my favorite days of the year!
The Diestels were also recently featured in Whole Foods Magazine.