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  • Cliff McConville

Farm Update, Buying and Cooking a Pasture-Raised Turkey

FARM HAPPENINGS

The grazing season is starting to wind down, but with the beautiful mild weather we've had the last several days we are hoping to squeeze in a few more weeks of pasture rotations with the cows before cold weather and snow sets in. This "Indian Summer" weather has provided us with some extra time to finish up our lingering fall projects and get the farm ready for winter.


We processed our last batch of broiler chickens two weeks ago, for a total of 15 batches of 500 this year. That means no more fresh chickens, but we do have a good supply of frozen whole and cutup chickens available to keep everyone supplied through the winter. And a pretty good inventory of chicken parts (breasts, thighs, wings, etc) as well. And plenty of turkey and chicken bone broth for soups and stews.


Last Wednesday I drove the first trailer full of 20 fat hogs down to This Old Farm for processing. They will be making lots of bacon, pork chops, hams, roasts, and sausages that should be in the store in a few weeks, hopefully ready before Thanksgiving. We have another trailer load going in mid-November so there is still time to fill your freezer with a half or whole hog for the winter. Click here for more information on ordering bulk pork.


With the broiler chickens all finished for the season, we picked up 800 replacement pullets, or young laying hens, and they are now residing in three of the Mobile Range Coops (MRCs) vacated by the broiler chickens. These young hens are just starting to lay eggs, and once the water lines running across the field freeze up we will move them into the hoophouse area for the winter. All of the older hens in the front pasture by the road will be processed into stewing hens after Thanksgiving. However the new hens ramping up egg production we should have plenty of eggs in the store for the holidays.


TURKEY TALK

With Thanksgiving coming up in a few weeks we are getting a lot of calls about turkeys. Both of our fresh turkey pickup dates scheduled the week of Thanksgiving are sold out, however, we have experienced a very good turkey raising year overall and should have over 300 frozen turkeys available to sell in the store beginning on Monday, November 7th.


I took the first batch of turkeys into the processor this morning, and those will be picked up early Monday from the processor and brought back to the store and available for sale by noon while supplies last.


At this point its hard to say how big our turkeys will be this year, but I expect they will range from about 13 pounds on the low end up to 25 pounds or so on the high end, with the average being around 17-18 lbs. We should have a good variety of sizes available in the store.


While we are one of the few farms in the area that raises turkeys outdoors on grass, Local Food Forum writer Bob Benenson wrote a great article about the benefits of buying a pasture-raised turkey for the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Illinois website. His article focuses on on two farms in central Illinois but we did get an honorable mention at the end! Read the full article here.


FARM STORE UPDATE

With the fall growing season winding down we are having a hard time finding much local produce except of course pumkins, squash and root vegetables. We still have quite a few of our own organic pie pumpkins raised right here in our pumpkin patch. And next Wednesday we are expecting our last shipment of Michigan organic apple cider and fresh apples for the season.


  • NEW and VERY TASTY - Anna has sourced some pasture-raised sheep's milk cheeses from Green Dirt Farm in Missouri. We just got them in last week and they are delicious.

  • Beef restock - our October beef just arrived back from the processor so we have a big selection of steaks, roasts, ground, soup and marrow bones, and even organ meats while supplies last.

  • We also have a full selection of chicken parts in stock now, including breasts, thighs, drumsticks, necks, wings, and ground chicken. We should have some chicken sausage in before Thanksgiving.

  • Our pork Shoulder Roast and Shoulder Steaks are on sale now, 20% off.

  • Fresh herbs from Wind Ridge Farm in Caledonia will be in the store on Wednesday

TIPS FOR SELECTING AND COOKING A PASTURE-RAISED TURKEY

We've been publishing these helpful hints the last few years at Thanksgiving from Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. Buy her book "Grass Fed Gourmet" in our farm store.


Please be flexible. If you are buying your pasture-raised turkey from a small, local, sustainable farmer, thank you VERY much for supporting us. That said, please remember that pasture-raised turkeys are not like factory-farmed birds. Outside of conscientious animal husbandry, we are unable to control the size of our Thanksgiving turkeys. Please be forgiving if the bird we have for you is a little larger or a little smaller than you anticipated. Cook a sizeable quantity of sausage stuffing if it is too small, or enjoy the leftovers if it is too large. If the bird is so large that it cannot fit in your oven, simply remove the legs before roasting it.


Balk about the price in private. Look, I’m not going to lie. If you are used to picking up a free turkey from the grocery store, then the $5-$8 per pound ticket on a pastured turkey seems expensive. If you’ll notice, however, the farmer selling it isn’t exactly getting rich off you. He or she is selling it based on the farm’s expenses (and grain, labor and processing are VERY expensive these days!) Factory birds from the grocery store are not cheap, either. The price is a ruse. You pay for industrialized food ahead of time through your taxes. I guarantee that, once you get home, experience the amazing flavor, the ease of cooking it and the fact that you don’t suffer gastrointestinal illness after (as so many folks do with factory farmed birds), you will agree the price was worth it.


Know what you are buying. If you don’t personally know the farmer who is growing your turkey, take the time to know what you are buying! “Pastured” is not necessarily the same as “free-range.” Some grass-based farmers use the word “free-range” to describe their pasture-raised birds, but any conventional factory farm can also label their birds “free-range” if they are not in individual cages, and if they have “access” to the outdoors – even if the “outdoors” happens to be feces-laden penned-in concrete pads outside the barn door, with no access to grass. “Pastured” implies that the bird was out on grass for most of its life, where it ate grass and foraged for bugs, in addition to receiving some grain.


Brining and Basting optional. If tradition dictates that you season your meat by brining your bird and basting it as it roasts, by all means, do so. However, many people brine and baste in order to keep the bird from drying out. With a pastured bird, this is not necessary, and basting only wastes energy as you continually open the oven door. Pastured birds are significantly juicier and more flavorful than factory farmed birds. You can spare yourself this extra step as a reward for making the sustainable holiday choice! (By the way, those turkey roasting bags are not necessary, either.)


Monitor the internal temperature. Somewhere along the line, a lot of folks came to believe that turkeys needed to be roasted until they had an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuck. You don’t need to do that. Your turkey need only be cooked to 165 degrees. If the breast is done and the thighs are not, take the bird out of the oven, carve off the legs and thighs, and put them back in to cook while you carve the breast and make your gravy. That entire holiday myth about coming to the table with a perfect whole bird and then engaging in exposition carving is about as realistic as expecting our daughters will grow up to look like Barbie (and who’d want that, anyhow?). Just have fun and enjoy the good food.


Cook the stuffing separately. I know a lot of folks like to put the stuffing inside their holiday birds, and if Thanksgiving will be positively ruined if you break tradition, then stuff away. However, for a couple reasons, I recommend cooking your stuffing separately. First, everyone’s stuffing recipe is different. Therefore, the density will not be consistent, which means that cooking times will vary dramatically. If you must stuff your bird, allow for about 12-15 minutes per pound cooking time, but be assiduous about monitoring the internal temperature of the meat and the stuffing. Due to food safety concerns, I happen to think it is safer to cook the stuffing outside the bird. Plus, it is much easier to lift and move both the bird and the stuffing when prepared separately, and to monitor the doneness of each. Rather than putting stuffing in my bird’s cavity, I put in aromatics, like an onion, carrot, garlic and some fresh herbs. When the bird is cooked, I add these aromatics to my stock pot. The aromatics perfume the meat beautifully, and the only seasoning I wind up using on the surface is melted butter, salt and pepper.


Do not cover your bird! Covering it will only make the skin rubbery and soggy. Do not put tin foil over the breast. It is an unnecessary waste of aluminum.


No need to flip. I used to ascribe to that crazy method of first roasting the bird upside down, then flipping it over to brown the breast. The idea was that the bird would cook more evenly, and the breast wouldn’t dry out. When I did this, the turkey came out fine. But I suffered 2nd degree burns, threw out my back, ruined two sets of potholders and nearly dropped the thing on the floor. Pasture-raised turkeys are naturally juicy. Don’t make yourself crazy with this stunt. Just put it in the oven breast-side up like you would a whole chicken, don’t cover it and don’t over-cook it. Take it out when the breast is 165 degrees (see above). If, despite the disparaging comments above, you still want to show off the whole bird, then bring it into the dining room, allow everyone to ooh and aah, then scuttle back to the kitchen, and proceed as explained above.


Be ready for faster cook times. Pasture-raised turkeys will cook faster than factory-farmed birds. Set the oven temp for 325 degrees and figure on 8-10 minutes per pound for an un-stuffed bird, 12-15 minutes per pound if stuffed. Don’t worry — It WILL brown! But remember: oven temperatures and individual birds will always vary. Use an internal meat thermometer to know for sure when the bird is cooked.


Use a good-quality roasting pan. If this is your first Thanksgiving and you do not already own a turkey roasting pan and cannot find one to borrow, treat yourself to a really top-quality roaster, especially if you have a sizeable bird. Cheap aluminum pans from the grocery store can easily buckle when you remove the bird from the oven, potentially causing the cook serious burns or myriad other injuries in efforts to catch the falling fowl. Plus, they often end up in the recycling bin, or worse, landfills. If you buy a good quality large roasting pan, and you happen to have a copy of Long Way on a Little and/or The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook (another shameless hint), I guarantee you will have multiple uses for the pan!


Pick the meat off the bird before making stock. If you plan to make soup from your turkey leftovers, be sure to remove all the meat from the bones before you boil the carcass for stock. Add the chunks of turkey back to the broth just before serving the soup. This prevents the meat from getting rubbery and stringy. For an extra-nutritious stock, follow the advice offered in Long Way on a Little.


Help is available. In recent years, our home seems to have become the unofficial Pasture-Raised Thanksgiving Hotline. Please do not hesitate to write to me with your questions at shannon@theradicalhomemaker.net. I make a point of checking email three times a day right up through Thanksgiving Day (I stop around noon), so that I can promptly respond to your questions or concerns. Please make sure you write “turkey question” in your subject heading so that I spot it quickly. Enjoy your holiday!


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We hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday. Please follow us on our Instagram Page where Anna posts photos and farm updates a few times per week.


Cliff, Anna, and the Farm Team

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