I admit it I love Thanksgiving. Not that I really need an excuse to cook a big meal for family and friends but I love the idea of this food-centric secular holiday. I also particularly love the challenge of bringing local farm-fresh seasonal foods to the table. In years past I’ve roamed the farmers’ markets in advance to plot and plan my holiday menu. I’ve ordered a turkey knowing it would come from a local farm and was humanely raised. Without too much difficulty, I was able to prepare local and fresh feasts – in New York City.
But this year has presented an interesting challenge to cooking local – namely preparing a “traditional” Thanksgiving for my parents who live out in the country. (And by “traditional” they mean Norman Rockwell turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie with nary a vegetable save the green beans drowning in cream of mushroom soup covered in French fried onions.) My folks live in a rural part of middle America surrounded by family farms, so I didn’t think it would be too hard to get some good local poultry. How wrong was I!
About a month ago, I enlisted the help of my mother who made multiple phone calls to nearby butcher shops to see if they sold local turkeys. From the responses it quickly became apparent that buying a humanely raised local turkey was more challenging than I had expected. So we had to get creative. I remembered that their next-door neighbor had raised turkeys and since he was often generous with the over-abundance of his garden, I asked my mom if she thought it might be worth finding out if he was willing to spare a turkey for the holiday. Unfortunately my mother informed me he hasn’t had turkeys in over a decade (which means I apparently I need to visit my parents more often). So I asked my mother if she was willing to ask around her church. Surely someone might have an extra turkey on his or her farm? No luck there either. However one night while my mother was driving home from work a wild turkey flew out in front of the car. Luckily for the turkey and the car they missed each other, although honestly I’m not sure road-kill turkey was what I had in mind when I said local and fresh.
The Internet turned out to be remarkably unhelpful, although the Yellow Pages had a listing for a meat wholesaler in the nearby town. A few questions to the woman who answered the phone today, I was satisfied to know that their turkeys were raised on nearby Amish farms and were sold fresh. (So fresh in fact my turkey is still scratching and pecking or whatever turkeys do to pass the time on Amish farms.) And the wholesalers were really friendly happily talking about the farm they get their turkeys from and by the end of the conversation were even willing to throw in a couple of extra turkey necks to cook down for stock.
So the story will end well (I hope). But I find it endlessly fascinating that it was so difficult finding a local turkey – especially when surrounded by so many farms. Yet on the bright side, most of the commercial agriculture near my parents are vineyards so buying local wine shouldn’t be too difficult…