I’ve come to local eating one meal, one farmer, at a time. This summer and fall I’ve rarely gone to the supermarket. Nancy bakes bread. We get our milk delivered in glass bottles from Meadowbrook. We source meat and produce from our farm CSA, Gade Farm, the Carrot Barn in Schoharie, or the Schenectady Green Market. But now fall is giving way to winter and soon the market offerings will narrow down to root vegetables. My poor attempts at freezing roasted tomatoes or poached zucchini will feed us for about a week. Meat will become more important in our menus and we’ll reluctantly browse the produce aisles at the co-op.
But in the meantime, we’re going to have one big local feast this Thanksgiving with at least 24 friends and family. My goal is to serve food that is sourced no more than 50 miles from home. I’ll cook it simply so we can actually taste the food. And we’re planning ahead so we can actually enjoy the company.
There never really was any question about where I would get my turkey. I spend a couple hours each week interviewing my 95-year-old farmer friend Everett Rau about his life and times for a book. This year his son and grandson invested in a turkey flock. As I sat with Ev through the summer I watched the turkeys grow from scrawny poults to radiant white turkeys with bright pink heads and cerulean blue highlights. I enjoyed hearing their soft warbles as the flock came crowding toward me whenever I approached their enclosure to take pictures or just to visit.
Today was the first of four turkey distribution days at Pleasantview farm and I made sure that I was there early. I had been a little nervous about a farm-processed turkey. Would it be too sad? Would there still be traces of the birds I’d been visiting all summer? Perhaps because they're such flocking birds, there weren't any that stood out as individuals. And here they were, processed and plucked -- looking less like animals and more like dinner in their plastic bags with Farm labels. They looked smaller too, and though most of the birds were 30+, I found two perfectly matched 20 lb. turkeys and was happy to take them both.
When cooking for a crowd, we’ve learned to cook two smaller turkeys rather than one huge one. We cook one the day before and use the giblets and drippings to make stock and gravy ahead of time. Thanksgiving day we warm up the “service turkey” in the oven’s warming tray. Meanwhile the “show turkey” cooks more quickly, is less likely to dry out, and always looks beautiful. Smaller birds are easier to handle and you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in the oven!
Nancy’s been reading about the pros and cons of brining on Serious Eats. I enjoyed our cider-brined turkey the last time we hosted Thanksgiving dinner but I’m inclined to agree with the no-brine philosophy. If these field-raised turkeys have the same flavor punch as the fresh chickens I’ve been getting at the farmers market, I’d hate to cover it up with cider and salt. Will keep you posted!