The lines have already started. At about 1 p.m., more than 80 people were standing in a queue that snaked out the door, down the sidewalk and out onto the road.
These aren’t eager Black Friday shoppers looking for a great bargain. In fact, these people know they are probably paying more than they would at a grocery store. They don’t care. These are die-hard enthusiasts looking for the best of the best, and they are willing to stand in line and wait for the privilege.
This is Turkey Monday.
These people were lined up outside the Penn State Poultry Education and Research Center. Some had brought coolers. Some had laundry baskets. There was even an improvised turkey-hauling device of a box attached to a small hand cart.
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The sale starts at noon the Monday before Thanksgiving every year, when the Poultry Science Club opens the doors and starts to let people in. It ends when the last neatly butchered bird in its pristine plastic packaging is handed over, or at 5 p.m. Tuesday, whichever comes first.
Last year, there actually were several gobblers left over because the faint-hearted gave up.
But, those who didn’t make it Monday are out of luck. The club’s website carried the bad news: The turkeys sold out in three hours.
But for hundreds of lucky people, they will know the juicy joy of a bird that has never been frozen.
The birds are a mix of broad-breasted bronzes and mini whites, raised by university students. The average weight is about 19 pounds.
“I heard they had some small heritage birds this year,” veterinary school student Amy Mayer said. Don’t get excited about that, though. PSC adviser and animal science senior instructor Phillip Clauer said only a few, raised as part of a study, were butchered, but they were very small. The last 9-pounder was gone by 1 p.m.
Mayer stood in line, ready to pay up for the turkeys that, last year, as a member of the club, she was selling. Her parents bought a 24-pounder last time, and she and fiance Zach Barkley are looking forward to another, including the leftovers that ended up in the turkey corn chowder.
“It was delicious,” he said.
For some people, buying a turkey is done weeks ahead, picking up a frozen bird and stashing it in the deep freeze in the basement, then panicking at the last minute over whether there’s enough time to thaw it out in time for buttering up and turning into a Norman Rockwell-style centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table.
News flash: If you haven’t started thawing at least three days out, you are in trouble.
That’s not a problem for these turkeys, Clauer said. They were harvested shortly before the sale, prepared without preservatives that can be used to plump up some supermarket birds, and never allowed to fall below freezing temperatures.
That’s good news for Susan Kukic, of State College. She bought her first PSC turkey on Monday, and she will take it on a road trip. It will get to visit the Pittsburgh area, where her brother-in-law “will be thrilled” for the chance to cook a fresh bird.
She went to the sale with turkey-sale veteran Diane Toulson, a State College church organist whose bird will go into the oven early in the day and roast low and slow for his dinner-table spotlight.
Actually, that’s “her” spotlight. Clauer said the toms were all claimed early on. The birds being sold in the afternoon were all hens.
Proceeds from the sale help the PSC members go to a poultry industry event in Georgia and other trips every other year. Last year, Mayer said, the club visited Germany.
Gary Petersen, of State College, was happy to pay $1.50 a pound and wait an hour to get his 20.4-pound entree for Thursday’s feast.
“It’s all part of the experience,” he said.