My spicy sticky turkey wings are a fun, supersized twist on classic chicken wings.
This year, I even got to visit the Diestel Turkey Ranch, so I’m taking you along on my adventure!
As November looms ahead, this is the time of year that I begin to think of how my family will celebrate Thanksgiving. Some years are spent with friends, some with neighbors, and some, just the four of us. This year, I am especially excited because my extended family will be traveling from far and wide to join us at the table. I have not had a Thanksgiving with my brother and sister in years, so you can just imagine how special this year will be.
But there’s always one more guest, one more family. Year after year, we have had the Diestel family at our table. They may not be seated next to us, but one of their beautiful turkeys graces our meal and has become part of our family tradition. And in that way, they have joined us, fed us, grown up with us, and created family memories with us.
Whether I’m serving a classic boneless turkey breast or sticky turkey wings, I reach for a Diestel turkey. So when I was invited by Whole Foods Market to visit the Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora, California a few weeks ago, I knew I had to go.
Arriving in Sonora, CA
I drove towards the Sierra Foothills towards Yosemite, through the historic, sleepy towns that had their boon in the gold rush days. As my car neared the town of Sonora, my eyes were greeted by rediscovered beauty. I was surrounded by flaxen hills, the golden grasses waving as I drove by. Greying barns and fences led to croppings of dark gnarly rocks, and my heart soared. With each dip in the road, to each curve my steering wheel would follow, I breathed in amazement at the undulating landscape. I wished I could stop at each turn to retrieve my camera, but the urgency for a bathroom break after the long drive forced me to keep going. Instead, I had to settle myself to simply allow my heart to swell with emotion at the landscape of this gorgeous piece of California.
Dinner at Magnolia Cafe
The evening of my arrival, our group made another drive through windy cliffs towards the town of Murphys. There, at the charming Magnolia Cafe, we were greeted by Tim and Joan Diestel and their children, Jason, Heidi, and Garrett. As I spoke with each of them throughout the course of the trip, I was truly touched by how sincere and thoughtful each of them was. I loved how respectful they are of the business they run together, and of the animals and land in their care. I do believe that their success comes from their passion coupled with the values that they instill in their work.
That night’s dinner was carefully prepared by Magnolia Cafe’s Chef/Owner Devon Shires, and of course, Diestel Turkey was the shining star. I loved the Grilled Bacon, Shrimp, and Fig Skewers highlighting the Diestel Heritage bacon and of course, my favorite figs. The entree featured a Classic Diestel Turkey Roast with beautiful roasted winter vegetables. Chef Shire’s dessert was magnificent – an Organic Nectarine and Dried Apricot Crumble – I loved the combination of fresh and dried stone fruit and can’t wait to try that here at home.
Diestel Turkey Ranch Visit
The following morning unveiled a stunning autumn day, and when I drove into the Diestel Turkey Ranch, the road was flanked on either side by endless hills of luscious green, and trees shading the flocks of turkeys enjoying the beautiful day. We were warmly welcomed by the extended Diestel family. Smoke from an impressive barbecue smoker wafted temptingly across the farm, hinting at the lunch to come.
The History of the Farm
Joan and Heidi Diestel shared with us their history as a farm, dating back to its founding in 1949 by Jack Diestel. It was fascinating to me to learn more about the ranch’s beginnings and how they marry the time-honored traditions of caring for their organic birds in a wholesome way along with son Jason’s innovative ideas in creating an earth-friendly farm environment.
Some things have not changed. They firmly believe in walking the flock every single day. They give the turkeys the freedom to exercise and give them a healthy place to live. Time is never rushed, giving the birds the time they need to grow and develop flavor naturally. And they never take any shortcuts. It is a labor of love that is evident everywhere you turn.
Innovation and Tradition
The turkeys eat the best freshly grown and mashed corn meal. There are no gnarly pellets that have been stripped of their nutrients. Their food is devoid of any fillers such as animal by-products, and of course, there are no antibiotics or growth hormones. It shows. I distinctly remember my first Thanksgiving in the Bay Area when we prepared a Diestel turkey. The flavor was unmatched. The juiciness is phenomenal. And that was it for us. Since then, no other turkey will do.
Jason Diestel is lauded as the brainiac of the family, and he has brought so much innovation to his family’s farm. He introduced composting to the ranch, which has not only solved any waste issues, but it has improved the quality of the feed. Even neighboring farms have found that the Diestel compost has invigorated their own harvests.
We got to meet some of the different turkey species up close, and they were such inquisitive and interesting birds. Not to mention very photogenic. I think some of them knew it, too.
This last particular little lady was looking for a lot of attention.
Not Just Turkeys
One of Diestel Ranch’s newest efforts includes the concept of interspecies farming. Some turkeys are allowed to cohabitate with a rotating group of other animals, including chickens, goats, and even alpacas. The Diestels have found that this promotes the health of turkeys even more. A bonus of this is that there are farm fresh eggs. We all got to go on a little egg hunt.
As our group searched high and low for eggs, someone else found a little treat. All morning, we were guided by James, one of the ranch dogs. When he spotted a broken egg, he won the jackpot, licking his chomps of the yellow gooey mess. Lucky dog.
I managed to stay and enjoy a quick lunch under the trees: smoked turkey and fresh, delicious salads. And then, it was time for me to go. As I said my goodbyes, Joan Diestel approached me. Lovely hostess that she is, placed a warm, foil-covered plate in my hands. It’s Apple Crisp, from the orchard down the road, she told me. As I thanked her and said my farewell, I felt so grateful for the chance to dine at their table and to be their guest. And I smiled knowing that I will see them again, at my table, this Thanksgiving.
Sticky Turkey Wings
Yes, turkey is important on holidays, but I do enjoy turkey all year long. Here is just one example. My favorite part of the bird, and the one my daughter and I argue over, are the wings. So I thought I would make a plate of what I like best: Spicy Sticky Turkey Wings.
More Turkey Recipes To Love
Sticky Turkey Wings
- 6 turkey wings
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 2/3 cup sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 head of garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons chili sauce
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
The Day Before:
- Trim the tips of the turkey wings, and detach the wings from the little drumsticks. You will now have 12 pieces. Place in a resealable bag or a glass/nonreactive bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sherry vinegar, honey, garlic, chili sauce (add more if you really like spicy) and ginger. Whisk with a fork to blend. Pour over the turkey wings, seal/cover, and let it marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
The Day Of:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the wings and the marinade into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, and let it cook for about 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare a baking tray by covering it with aluminum foil and apply a light coat of cooking spray.
- Remove the wings and set the sauce aside. Lightly dry the wings and arrange on the baking sheet. Brush with the peanut oil and sprinkle with salt. Lightly baste with about 1/4 cup sauce. Place in the oven.
- Bake the wings for about 1 hour, basting frequently. Towards the end, go ahead and put whatever sauce might remain all over the wings, and let it caramelize and brown, turning every so often.
- When the wings are gooey and brown, remove from oven and sprinkle with scallions. Serve immediately.