Category Archives: Farmers and Food Artisans

How to Cook Your Christmas Goose

A Christmas Carol, a story about something or other in which a roast goose makes an appearance

Geese used to be no big deal. When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, I believe he meant to mock the Cratchit family’s excitement as they sat down to the scrawny goose at the center of their holiday meal:

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course — and in truth it was something very like it in that house… Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

Whatever the size of their goose, those enthusiastic Cratchits had me salivating for goose! I don’t know when turkeys took over the market, but geese used to be THE THING for a holiday meal. Okay, maybe a hundred years ago I would have written off the goose, and thanked the New World for providing a superior bird, the turkey. But today – the turkeys you can get in the store don’t have much flavor, though you could lose a knife in that breast. It’s not impossible to find a heritage breed – I’ve seen them at P.C.C. But if you’re going to go old school, why not go REALLY old school? Why not cook up a Christmas goose?

Guess what's in my cooler?

TODAY’S PEST, YESTERDAY’S SYMBOL OF HOPE

In cities we tend to think of geese as a nuisance bird. The USDA killed a large number of them in Seattle a few years ago, a move that angered a lot of animal rights activists. I have a cousin who actually makes his living chasing geese with dogs. It’s easy to forget, when approached by aggressive geese in a public park in the middle of winter, that geese are at heart, migratory birds.

It used to be geese were always coming and going, crossing the sky in their V-shaped formations. For that reason, people once associated geese with seasonal change. Northern Europeans ritually consumed them around the fall equinox. Geese eaten on that date symbolized a descent into winter, much as Persephone of Greek mythology descended temporarily into the underworld. But the bargain Persephone made not only accounted for the injustice that is winter – it also promised spring. And so for many Northern Europeans, a goose eaten in midwinter – especially around the solstice – would have symbolized hope, the distant dream of spring.

WHERE TO GET YOUR GOOSE

Brad Andonian, like most the farmers we love, isn’t perfect, but he grows a fine goose. Brad’s geese are raised on his farm in Toledo, Washington. They live on pasture, which Brad doesn’t spray. Their supplemental grains come from just down the road from his farm. If they were organic grains, we’d be ecstatic. They’re not. But I figure with all that pasture, Brad’s birds are going to be way better, and way better for us, than most turkeys I can find in the store. And because geese haven’t been bred for large-scale feedlot production, they’ve retained most of their foraging instincts. They’ll get more from pasture than a modern broad-breasted turkey.

Buying one of Brad’s geese will make you feel like the poor clerk Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol – they can cost over $100. In my family, we can’t really afford birds like that. But when you look at the finances, it ain’t as bad as it seems. The way I figure it, we’ve stopped buying chickens of any kind all year long, eating only the hens and roosters we cull from our flock and the flocks of our friends. So maybe we can afford to spring for a big, expensive bird once a year. Think of Tiny Tim.

Two Poultry Sellers: A dead Italian on the left, Brad Andonian on the right

If you order goose from Brad, he’ll kill them, dress them and bring them in a cooler to one of his two luxury carpet stores (Bellevue or Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood).

A BEEFY SORT OF BIRD

Geese are fattier than chickens or turkeys. I could not believe the amount of fat that rendered out of my cooked goose. (Incidentally, goose fat is highly prized in the kitchen – try frying potatoes with it). And whereas turkey will give you a large, white breast for grandma and dark thighs for the adventurous uncle, geese are all dark meat, all the time. The flavor is stronger and richly colored – sometimes almost like beef, but still the texture of a bird.

my roasted goose

Once I received my goose from Brad, I set it in brine for eight hours (1 c salt, 1/4 c sugar, smashed garlic cloves and enough water to cover my bird), rinsed it (as sugar on the surface can cause the skin to blacken), then let it dry out in the fridge under a towel overnight. I took Brad’s advice and did not pierce the skin to drain fat as advised in many goose recipes. I also roasted the bird upside down, to help keep the temperature down on the breast, which tends to overcook on any kind of bird. It took between two and three hours at 350 (I blasted the bird at 400 for a few minutes in the beginning) to cook the bird. You know it’s done by poking it in the thigh – if the juices run clear, rather than red, it’s done. When you pull the goose out, turn it over and poke it deep in the breast, just to make sure the breast juices run equally clear. If not, cook breast side up a few minutes more.

 

KUOW piece on farmers market alcohol tasting

Wade Bennett gives potential customers tastes of hard ciders and berry wines

Wherever you see alcohol deregulation, Wade Bennett is there. He was instrumental in the development of a program to test beer and wine tastings at farmers markets. He was behind the failed ballot measure to deregulate hard liquor distribution. By baby steps, the libertarian farmer hopes to reduce the Washington State Liquor Control Board into an enforcement and educational agency, nothing more.

I interviewed Bennett for a strange little story I did about Beer and Wine tastings in farmers markets. Give it a listen: it starts out like a typical farmers market story, then explores some unexpected territory.

Joshua

Producer Profile: Abundant Acres

I’ve recently dipped my toes into rabbit as a means of keeping backyard meat but decided to wait a bit.  It’s true you can buy rabbit from Bill the Butcher but what a sham that turned out to be. The Bill the Butcher expose only strengthened my resolve even further to know the person raising my meat animals, know their living conditions, and know the processing method and circumstances around the animal’s death.

I’ve scrutinized farmer Brad for months now about the living conditions and the livestock feed and feel pretty comfortable recommending him. He traveled to Polyface Farms in 2008 and met briefly with Daniel Salatin before starting up his rabbit operation, attempting to make it as sustainable as possible.

A quick blurb about the ideals they strive for on the farm:

Abundant Acres Farms is the result of many years of thought, research and learning. We are committed to providing our family, friends and customers the freshest and finest pastured meats.

Located in Toledo, WA our farm was originally homesteaded in 1935. We purchased the farm from the son of the original homesteaders! At nearly 40 acres, there is plenty of fresh air, grass and water for all the animals to express their natural instincts–a trait we hope to foster and encourage.

We will never be a mass producer, rather a “boutique” for more discriminating folks who care about their family, food origin and nutritional value.

Our logo “Ceres” (pronounced Series) is the ancient Roman goddess of plants. As we are a pasture based farm, grass quality is the foundation of our farm. We seek to use rotational grazing to naturally fertilize the fields, our flock of hens will work in the manure and insure bugs and flies are kept in check.

All animals are brooded on the farm in Toledo, Washington. They begin lives on conventional feed but are moved onto grass and local, unsprayed oats and alfalfa as soon as possible.

Farmer Brad raises chickens, ducks, geese, turkey, rabbits and occasionally pigs. You can email cereshill@yahoo.com for pricing or to reserve meat animals. He also sells breeding rabbits.

We thoroughly enjoyed our rabbits from him and I got a duck for my birthday dinner which I’ll be posting on soon I hope. It was amazing dark meat – the perfect thing for a special occasion. I’m looking forward to a fine Dickensian goose for Christmas and perhaps a steamed pudding to go with it.

Have you thought much about your Thanksgiving meal? Cascade Harvest Coalition always hosts an eat local contest with some pretty nifty prizes. Now is the time to be thinking about stocking your larder and freezer for fall and winter eats and farmer Brad is a great place to start!

Holy Cow!

car-full-of-beef

Yesterday I drove up to Snohomish to pick up 3/4 of a cow that Cascade Range Beef had grown for me.

We had eaten Cascade Range beef last winter and even the hamburger was amazingly gamy and lean. I never once had to drain the pan after browning before adding the other ingredients. It made wonderful meatballs, bolognese, taco meat and other things my family likes to eat.

The great thing about finding a personal farmer is that not only are you supporting a local small farm but you can find one that is like minded – sustainably pasturing cows and slaughters on the farm which is the most humane and least traumatic for the animal. Cascade Range Beef cows are 100% grass fed rather than fed part grain and silage that are not a part of the animal’s natural diet. That means your cow will be healthier, tastier, and play an integral part in land management (by naturally fertilizing the land) rather than contribute to greenhouse gasses.

100-percent-grass-fed-beef

I managed to sell the whole cow which is, of course, a prerequisite in order to get your meat.

Here is what Kelso’s (the butcher) looks like

kelsos-meats

And here is what one Volvo station wagon loaded up with 600 pounds of meat looks like

car-with-cow

To better help you visualize just how much meat one quarter cow is, it’s about two and a half regular sized coolers of meat. Luckily it packs really well into neat little blocks of meat unlike the various cuts of pig which were a ton of odd shapes that didn’t fit as neatly together.

cooler-of-cow

From my house it was about 25 miles to Kelso’s and the time actually went pretty fast on the road. The time I spent arranging and re-arranging cuts of meat in coolers and boxes, sorting for this person who wanted no stew meat or that person who wanted only short ribs, was not so fast. My advice when loading a frozen cow? GLOVES!

I’m ever so thankful I happened to have a pair of running gloves in the back of the car. Otherwise it probably would have taken me twice the hour that I spent man-handling beef.

I dropped one quarter of the cow off at a neighbor’s then raced home to rearrange my freezer and load my quarter. I had to take out the turkey that Pastured Sensations raised for me as well as two pork butts from Akyla Farms which we’ll smoke this weekend, then trade for some of the neighbor’s smoked salmon and repackage what is left to re-freeze.

I raced to the bus stop to pick up Chicken Little and a neighbor boy, dropped off the boy, raced to another neighbor’s to store the turkey and some ground beef in her freezer since my was full, then raced across town to deliver the final quarter for a friend who was at work. After three cooler trips down to her basement and loading her freezer we raced back home and got there just in time to lock the chickens up for the night.

There have been so many raccoon attacks this time of year, both in our neighborhood and all around town, that I’m paranoid about not getting them locked up by dusk. We’ve got plenty of good dog smells around the yard but that probably isn’t enough to keep them away.

There was no room for the soup bones in the freezer (which you have to request or they are thrown away – they are not allowed to donate them to food banks or sell them according to USDA regulation.) I started two large stock pots of beef bone broth which has been simmering for almost 24 hours now. Normally I like to simmer it gently for 48 hours or more to extract all the minerals and gelatin from the bones but my husband is coming back in town tonight and he’s not so fond of the simmering cauldrons on the stove.

There are quite a few mistakes I made when ordering the cuts. The frustrating part about ordering an animal is the information they don’t tell you. For instance, they ask if you want pork chops (who wouldn’t?) but don’t tell you that if you get pork chops you don’t then get a loin roast.

And so it is that I now have a freezer full of meat and no brisket to smoke or corn for St. Patty’s day. Apparently brisket is a specialty meat meaning if you don’t request it they turn it into stew meat or hamburger. My husband the smoker is not going to be happy about this. And when we try to throw our annual St. Patty’s Day corned beef dinner I’m not sure what we’ll do. With more than a year’s worth of meat in the freezer I may just need to break down and buy a brisket that won’t be the grass fed $3.50 per pound this meat worked out to. It will for sure cost a lot more.

Lesson learned. Always ask “If I get that, what will I not get?”

Sustainable and Local Thanksgiving

thanksgiving1

I know it’s still a few weeks away but sustainable and local food is slow food so I’m planting the seeds now.

Have you thought about your supper yet? There are so many wonderful local options this time of year as we still celebrate the abundance of late fall with more time spent out of the garden and into the kitchen.

Puget Sound Fresh is hosting a local Thanksgiving dinner contest to encourage you to support local farmers as much as possible.

It’s open to home cooks and the prizes look awfully enticing, including a dinner for 6 in your home prepared by an award winning chef from Brasa Restaurant, local wines and gift certificates for farmer’s markets.

Your dinner doesn’t need to be fancy but you do need to put a lot of thought into it. It doesn’t need to be traditional but it needs to be local. I guarantee you it will be more enjoyable to lovingly prepare and sink your teeth into something grown or raised by someone you’ve put a face with, perhaps enjoyed some conversation, shaken hands and are now on a first name basis with.

You can get local salmon, chicken, beef, pork and goat at the markets right now. How about a souffle from local eggs? A cheese platter from one of the many local cheese artisans along with some crisp fall apples and cider? A roasted apple and squash soup? If the local cranberries are gone by now perhaps you had already put up some cherries or plums earlier that would make a great condiment for your roast? Mushroom stuffing? Oysters on the half shell? I plan to serve brussel sprouts from my front yard but there are sure to be local varieties at the market as well.

By taking a trip to one of the farmer’s markets this Saturday you’ll have time (and room now that the crowds are thinning) to start planning your menu. Look at what is in season and think about what you can do with it. If you are joining forces with another family or family member pass that info on and plan together.

We each are a ripple on a surface of water. One thing you do spreads to many.

This Thanksgiving think local. Think sustainable. Think real food. And when you bow your head in thanks before eating remember all those who are eating from nameless cans and plastic wrappers.