From the Farmer

Week 15 – 8/20/2013

Weekly Roundup

We had a good visit last week from Ralph Crafts at Made-To-Order Kombucha.  Geeze (that’s geeze, Deb) we went through a lot of kombucha!  If you’ve gotten hooked or missed Saturday and just want to try it, check the fridge at the farm stand when you come for your CSA share.  Or, if you’d like a case or a growler (these are good deals), let us know what flavor you’d like and it will appear.

Hopefully now you recognize that one of our goals at the Farm is to provide access to good food choices, be they for health, ethics, simplicity, or taste.  We strive to be sensitive to every member’s food choices here and realize that among you all those choices are really quite diverse.  It makes running the farm an enjoyable learning experience.  Please keep telling us what kinds of foods you are interested in!  This is a great time to do that as we start planning for next season (fruit share?).

This week we highlight Poultry.  We realize that many of our CSA members are vegetarian and much of the farm team is as well (soy-based blood has been spilled over this question at many a farm lunch).  We believe that there are responsible – and ethical – ways to raise livestock for meat and appreciate the value of integrating animals into our farm systems.  

Chicken

This week we bring you: chicken.  Again.  But this isn’t vegetarian chicken, this chicken is for eating.

You may recall in an interview with one of our laying hens (Newsletter 11 of this season) that there are chickens and there are chickens:

Farmer: Tell me, for all we feed you, you still look kind of skinny.  Can we eat you?

Chicken: I mean, you could, I’d make great stock.  But I’m a baby-making machine, a layer.  You want me  for my eggs.  If you want to eat chicken for dinner tonight, eat a broiler.  Like the ones from Whiffletree Farm in your freezer.

Farmer: What’s the difference between a “layer” and a “broiler”?  Do broilers have nuggets?

Chicken: Well, us layers have lots of eggs in these here ovaries (actually all our eggs come from just one of our two ovaries).  We’re fit, trim; our bodies are built for the long haul.  Broilers put meat on those bones much more efficiently.  I have some cousins that are “duallies”, but like hybrid bikes, they’re not that great at either.  Great chickens otherwise, though.  Nice personalities.  None of us have nuggets.

Well, there’s also a difference among broilers, and breeds really do matter.  As with many things agricultural, the Modern Chicken has been bred for production efficiencies and this often results in a loss of flavor.  The Modern Chicken is great for raising quickly and packing into small spaces.  

In our kind of farming we tend to use breeds that are hardier and that are good at foraging (we want them to eat more than just grain).  These guys tend to taste much better – we get a lot of comments that the chicken, it tastes like chicken!  I love hearing things like this.

This season our freezer is stocked with chickens from Jesse Straight of Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton.  He raises his birds much like we do: lots of forage and space, with an intensive rotation around his fields to give them fresh pasture and “to spread the wealth” if you know what I mean.  He’s very good at it.  We asked him a few questions to learn more (he required no translator):

Willowsford Farm (WF): Jessie, what’s different about your birds?

Jessie Straight: We raise two kinds of birds, Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers.  They get most of their diet from the pasture they live on.  The grain we do feed is GMO-free as many of our customers prefer that.

WF: Why two kinds of birds – what’s a Freedom Ranger?

Jessie Straight: Freedom Rangers are a slower growing (we slaughter them at 12 weeks as opposed to 8 weeks) French bird.  A stronger, hardier, better foraging bird.  A better bird.  They come from France's Label Rouge program. But they are more expensive to raise because they cost more as chicks, take longer to grow, and are more difficult to process.  
 
I try to explain it this way: a grocery store bird is a 1 out of 10.  Our Cornish Cross is an 8 out of 10.  The Freedom Ranger is a 10 out of 10.

WF: Why do you raise the Freedom Ranger?

Jessie Straight: We love these birds.  They do better in our system.  They taste better.

WF: Do we eat them any differently?

Jessie Straight: Cook them the same way as any young bird–roast, grill, fry, crock pot, soup, etc.
 
Jessie is coming to the Farm Stand this Saturday to tell you more about what he raises and to take orders for Thanksgiving turkeys (see below).  We’ve stocked up on chicken in the meantime: breasts, legs and thighs, wings and whole birds.  We also have a limited number of whole Freedom Rangers to try.  They tend to be bigger birds, about five pounds rather than the usual four, so they’ll cost a little more overall.  I had one of these birds last week (perk of the job!) and the difference in taste is noticeable.  Try it and let us know what you think.

Just as in a grocery store you’ll notice a difference in price between whole birds and their parts.  This reflects the cost of processing – it takes more work to make pieces!  As of this typing chicken is priced so: $4.00/lb whole, $4.25/lb legs and thighs, $5/lb wings, $12/lb breast.  Freedom Rangers are $4.75/lb whole.

Whole birds are the most economical way to purchase chicken.  You’ll find more information in Bonnie’s "All About Chicken."  When I tried my Whiffletree chicken I used Joan Baker’s strategy, via Donna Quinn.

Preheat oven and pan at 450, rub bird with oil and seasonings, put bird in preheated pan,     close the oven door. cook for 35 mins (or 40 mins for a big bird). turn oven off. leave in     oven an additional 35 mins. Take out of oven. Carve. Eat. Sigh. That is it and it is amazing. Easiest thing I've cooked and the most delicious chicken ever.

I used this method with a twist (only difference being a trick I learned from Alice Waters in "The Art of Simple Food." I turned the chicken over after 20 minutes or so, then back over at 40) and I must’ve done something right because I did something right.  A baked chicken is easy and economical to prepare, can be done up fancy or simple, and can be fun for kids to help with. 

Thanksgiving Already!

It’s not too early to get ready for stuffing.  In fact, 8 AM, Monday after Thanksgiving, when the leftovers are finally gone is not too early to start thinking about next Thanksgiving.  Fights break out in my family over the 10 PM Thanksgiving Day refrigerator run. 

I remember when I took my first turkey home, that I’d raised myself.  It was almost not allowed in the kitchen and my mom still bought a store-bought bird.  “Just in case” she said.  This year order a bird from Whiffltree – no store-bought just-in-case Butterballs needed.

Whiffletree’s White Broad-Breasted turkeys will be ready-fresh the weekend before Thanksgiving and we will have them for you at the Farm Stand.  Talk to him this Saturday and if you’re interested sign up for a pre-ordered bird.  Birds will range in size from 12-26 pounds and cost $4.50 lb with a $5 handling fee.  A $35 deposit is required.

Have a good week and be great,

Mike

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