When November rolls around and the scent of cinnamon is in the air, you may look forward to traditional holiday treats like pumpkin pie or your mom’s gingerbread. But for people in Rome, N.Y., in the foothills of the Adirondacks, the holidays wouldn’t taste the same without Turkey Joints.
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They’re not made from turkey; they’re not even shaped like turkeys. Turkey Joints look like bones. Imagine a knobby 5-inch-long candy, similar in girth to a pretzel rod, covered in a crunchy, pearly-white sugar coating. Inside each “bone” is a creamy chocolate and Brazil nut “marrow.” Bizarre, yes, but also delicious.
Rome residents don’t make Turkey Joints at home; they buy them at Nora’s Candy Shop. Nora’s is owned by the Haritatos family, which began making the chocolate treats in 1919, and they’re still made by the same (secret) handmade process. No one knows for sure where the idea for the bone-shaped candies came from, but they’ve been a local Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition for decades.
“I don’t know how many jars we sell during the holidays,” said Sharon, a Nora’s employee who handles in-store and online sales. “But I will say it’s a lot. All I know is, at the end of the holiday season I am extremely tired!”
As New York Romans have moved away to other parts of the world, the Turkey Joints tradition has spread. Each year, Nora’s ships the candies to homesick people all over the United States, and beyond.
I was introduced to Turkey Joints several years ago by my friend Doug Gallaher, who grew up in Rome and moved to San Francisco in the early ’90s. At 45 years old, Gallaher has never known a Christmas without Turkey Joints.
“I don’t know anyone who is from Rome, or who had a relative from Rome, who does not think of them as a holiday food,” he told me. “What I like about them is that they are tied so closely to Christmas memories, but they are a tangible, unchanged thing. My mom still sends me a jar every year in my Christmas care package.”
Like many former Rome residents, Gallaher also gives Turkey Joints to friends each year during the holidays.
“I typically buy between six and eight jars and bring them to holiday parties instead of wine,” he said. “I try not to have any myself until after Thanksgiving and really try to hold out until Christmas Eve. I typically fail at this.”
Turkey Joints sell for $19.99 a jar, and are available only between October and May. (They don’t fare well in warm weather.) Due to the weight of the glass jars and the delicacy of the candies, shipping costs $15 for a single jar — nearly as much as the Turkey Joints themselves. But when you think about it, that’s a small price to pay for a sweet, unchanged taste of childhood, even if it’s someone else’s childhood.
To order Turkey Joints online, visit www.turkeyjoints.com or www.tasteofcny.com. Along with Original Turkey Joints, Nora’s also offers newfangled flavors such as Chocolate Covered Turkey Joints, Coco-Monds (a coconut/almond version) and Peanut Butter Sticks.
Top photo: Turkey Joints from Nora’s Candy Shop in Rome, N.Y. Credit: Tina Caputo