On a bitterly cold and rainy Tuesday night deep in November, the wind propelling the driving rain sideways. I dressed in black from head to toe, pushed a wad of cash deep into my pocket and stepped out the door at just the right moment to time my arrival at West End Avenue and 86th Street as instructed. As I approached, I could just make out a few people in the shadows, pretending they were not there for the same reason, and looking fictitiously busy. The frontmost spokes from my undersized umbrella jutted out purposefully as if to defend me from some unseemly affront. I slowed, but did not stop completely and just then a muscled gray pick up truck, gleaming in the night, glided up to the curb. Two shadowed figures emerged, deftly mounting the truck's bed like vigilantes.
The slow encroachment of the waiting crowd hinted at the mystery's resolution. One brave and curious passerby, asked, "What's going on?" dying to be clued in on the suspicious activity, knowing that New York City is full of secrets. Most of us looked at the ground, but one overeager participant offered giddily, her unauthorized response fading to a whisper: "We're picking up our Thanksgiving turkeys, delivered here from a farm in the Catskills." Despite the darkness and the inhibiting glare from the streetlamp, you could see the outsider's green-with-envy look as he anticipated his now less-than-perfect holiday bird.
It's become such an event, the arrival of the Thanksgiving turkey, that about a month ago in the middle of a black tie affair, my friend turned to me, eyes wide, "We've got to get our turkeys!" She looked panicked. I reassured her that just the perfect Thanksgiving turkey was waiting for her already, preparing to weigh in at the perfect poundage to feed her onslaught of relatives.
If you are like me and have eaten a dry plank of Thanksgiving turkey just to fulfill the tradition, you probably reserve very little real estate on your plate for the bird and load up instead on the most delicious sides. For me, it's sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows and the stuffing my mom makes. But, if you have tried one of Snowdance Farm's turkeys, you will never go back... except for seconds.
Snowdance Farm sells 7,000 chickens a year from its farm in Livingston Manor, New York, where they also raise and sell pork, beef and lamb. And once a year, farmers Marc and Susan Jaffe, sell turkeys. Delicious broad breasted, butterball type turkeys that fulfill the Thanksgiving fantasy of a robust bird as the centerpiece of the most American holiday. Several years ago, Snowdance experimented with heritage birds that have a more gamey flavor and sinewy texture, but the demand for the more typical turkey prevailed. And I say typical, but that's only in form. Everything else about Snowdance Farm's Thanksgiving turkey -- flavor, moisture, quality of life -- is superlative.
Every year, starting in mid June, Snowdance welcomes 300 poults, aka one to two day old baby turkey chicks, to the farm in three waves (to achieve various sizes by the third Thursday in November). They immediately take up residence in a plush green field where they can scratch and peck away in the grass for hearty meals of bugs and grubs, and even small rodents and snakes. They are so happy foraging about that Marc and Susan have to move them once a week so they have fresh ground to explore and snacks to eat. The farmers make sure they have plenty of water and supplement their diet with a high-protein breakfast that includes sunflower seeds and minerals as well as crushed marble (fancy!) to aid their gizzards in the digestion process.
The flock of turkeys take shelter in the rain and at night cuddled in a low shed that can be moved from place to place. A netted electric fence will zap any encroaching predators such as coyotes and foxes who prowl by at night. But the turkeys themselves aid in their own defense as well. If something's not right they alert Marc by making a terrible racket -- often at 3:30 am -- and he comes running (probably in his PJs), rifle at the ready. Farming is not for the faint of heart...nor the heavy sleeper.
Back in 2010, celebrity chef Bill Telepan touted Snowdance's poultry in a New York Magazine article that catapulted Snowdance to the top of many of the hottest restaurants' dance cards. Six years later, many of Snowdance's turkeys (and other meats) still star on the menus of the best restaurants in the Catskills, such as Peekamoose, and also in Williamsburg, of course. You can find them at Marlowe & Daughter (Brooklyn butcher) and on the menu at Diner (a delicious Brooklyn hotspot) and other like-minded, grass fed, farm-to-table type eateries. And, lucky for Manhattanites, just yesterday White Gold (a butcher committed to NY farms) opened on Amsterdam and West 78th with a full roster of Catskills' meats including Snowdance's heritage chickens on the rotisserie. (Run don't walk to visit them and stay tuned for a blog post on them in an upcoming issue of The Pitchfork!)
You can also have a Snowdance turkey on your own table this Thanksgiving. Snowdance Farm delivers to New York City's Upper East and Upper West side neighborhoods on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Also, if you are lucky enough to be hosting Thanksgiving in the Catskills, you can pick up your bird at the farm in Livingston Manor. City birds are $7/pound and Country birds that you pick up yourself are $5/pound. If you want one, just email Marc and tell him to talk to his flock about a bird that is just to your specifications! (See info below.)
A Snowdance turkey is a part of our family Thanksgiving ritual. Every year, my father-in-law threatens to get a turkey from Costco. Every year I tell him that our delicious country bird is already committed to us. Then he asks me several times about its workout regimen. "How many push ups can it do now?" he quips. Everyone has a role in the fun. My mom makes the stuffing in several versions: with sausage, without sausage for the vegetarians, some for inside the bird, and some for a casserole in the oven. My brother-in-law, whose father was a French butcher, sharpens his knives and his ancestral aptitude for the honored task of carving. And our dog sits obsessively under the bird in the kitchen for hours on end, just in case even the smallest tasty morsel falls to the floor.
With ceremony and delight, I pick up my bird in the city every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, deliver it to my father-in-law in NJ, who hosts our Thanksgiving fete every year, and never worry that it won't be delicious. It's so fresh that you could actually overcook it and it would still be the juiciest bird you've ever had. That said, Susan Jaffe shared her turkey cooking recipe with me, and I pass it on to you here:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Massage the entire bird with a mixture of fruit jam, olive oil, butter, salt and pepper.
3. Stuff the bird with apples, onions, prunes and other fruits. Susan does not recommend stuffing stuffing into the bird's cavity because it wicks away the juices (but I can't forgo the turkey juice infused stuffing and it's always worked out fine for me, FYI).
4. Cook the bird uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees to seal in the juices and brown the skin of the turkey.
5. Baste the bird regularly throughout the process with olive oil and butter mixture, and drippings as they appear.
6. Cover the bird with tinfoil and continue to cook it at a reduced 325 degrees for 20 minutes per pound, basting periodically.
7. Remove, carve and enjoy!
If you want your own delicious Snowdance bird this season -- for the city or the country-- now's a great time to order one! Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org with your specifications and let him know The Pitchfork sent you!
It's funny how the Snowdance turkey tradition brings my family together and also connects me with old and new friends... some of whom I only see once a year on the street corner as our clandestine turkey deal goes down. Just this morning, in fact, I got an email from an old friend, reconnecting and wondering how I am, how the kids are and if I am still getting my turkey on the side of the road. We will catch up again this year and I, for one, will be thankful to the turkey who brought us back together.
gobble gobble, farmgirl