Thanksgiving Turkeys, Get your orders in while you can

This is just a friendly reminder to everyone not to wait too long to get your fresh turkey order in!

In my personal experience, a fresh turkey from a farm is much better than any of the frozen birds you can get at a grocery store. The benefits of a fresh bird are The cook time is almost half that of a frozen turkey and the turkey comes out much better tasting and juicy. Even at the farmers market, if you pick it up at the  farmers market, many times the farmer the bird is still frozen before they give it to you, which really kind of defeats the purpose of getting it from the farmer. In any case, check with the farmer or vendor before you order it to make sure it will be delivered fresh and not frozen.

The problem is sometimes it's a hike to get to a "local" farm. So if driving out to one of the farms listed below isn't an option for you, check with your local Whole Foods, Moms Organic Market, or the Organic Butcher in McLean and ask to make sure the turkey you order will never be frozen. But just remember that you will pay a premium for the convenience.

If you're wondering where these farms are, I've created a page where with a listing of them. 


Virginia Farmland Summer Solstice Supper

Summer Solstice Menu and Place Setting The desire to develop relationships with those who are growing our food has made the farmers market concept popular throughout the United States.  In the DC metro area, there are well over 30 farmers markets (in my neighborhood alone, there are three).  The markets give consumers the opportunity to learn about the farms and the farmers, providing a direct pipeline of information from the farm to the table.  This concept has been taken one step further with farm to table events like the one that was recently hosted by Vermilion Restaurant on the Moutoux Orchard in Loudon County, Virginia.  I had the

 Vermilion Restaurant, located in Old Town Alexandria is known for its conscientious efforts to use locally sourced produce, meats, dairy products and other ingredients.  Executive Chef Tony Chittum, a recent Rammy award winner for Rising Culinary Star, seeks out local farmers and producers to partner with, bringing farm fresh ingredients to the heart of Old Town. Out of this partnership came the natural progression of bringing diners to the farm itself for an evening of stellar food and the chance to break bread with those who grew it.

Horton Wines 3The Moutoux Orchard is a tapestry of beautiful trees bearing the fruit of their famous peaches.  The orchard has been owned by the Moutoux family for three generations and has expanded with its own community supported agriculture program.  Rob Moutoux, Jr. has also begun growing wheat, spelt, rye and barley, using chemical free farming practices.  The Moutoux family graciously opened up its orchard for the Summer Solstice Supper, allowing guests to meander around their orchards and fields. 

 The event started with a reception in the peach orchard, which included a selection of Horton Wines. After hearing the compliments being bandied around the reception, I decided to try their orchard peach champagne cocktail, a glass of their Sparkling Viognier NV with a splash of their peach wine.  I was pleasantly surprised by the clean and crisp flavor of the cocktail and the immediate essence of peach permeating it.

Sitting Down to Dinner 2

To offset the flow of wine, platters of appetizers were circulated throughout the white tent erected for the reception.  Fresh sausage was tossed with a snap pea slaw while the sweetness of beets was paired with an Alberene ash goat cheese.  The start of Summer squash season was heralded with grilled Summer squash coupled with a Virginia feta.  And fresh eggs were highlighted in a frittata of potatoes, leeks and Virginia ham.  All of the produce was harvested the day before – evident by the sweetness of the beets and the tangy earthiness of the squash.  A live blue grass band rounded out the trifecta of good wine, good food and good music, making for a lovely start to the warm Summer night.

A makeshift kitchen was set up close by, with Tony and his staff working feverishly over the open flames of the grill. The first course was set before us, a chicory salad with deviled eggs and a Summer squash and cornbread panzanella.  The eggs were gathered that very morning from the chicken coops, bringing new meaning to farm fresh eggs.  The yolk was smooth and creamy, requiring little seasonings to bring out its rich flavor.  

Knowing this, Tony and his staff used a minimal amount of ingredients to create the deviled egg, allowing its natural flavors to shine.  The salad course was paired with Horton’s Viognier 2008, a crisp wine that didn’t interfere with the taste of the food. The greens were tossed lightly with a vinaigrette of freshly picked herbs, providing an added depth to the salad. 

Hampton Jumbo Lump Crab CakesThe second course was quickly placed in front of us, a duo of the region’s seafood accented with fresh vegetables paired with my favorite wine of the evening, Horton’s Petit Manseng 2007.  A Virginia wrapped local scallop was paired with a Hampton jumbo lump crab cake, served on large, family style platters to encourage guests to pass the plate and start a conversation.  The crab cake was served on a bed of oak leaf lettuce, tossed with the same fresh herb vinaigrette used on the chicory salad. Rounding off the second course was a crudo of spring root vegetables, including fresh radishes and beets.  The gorgeous, deep red of the beets permeated the rest of the crudo, giving the dish a bejeweled quality. 

 During the break between the second and third courses, I was able to get a closer look at the kitchen created in the middle of the farm land.  Tony, an easy going and affable guy, chatted freely with guests as he maneuvered the Piedmontese beef, rabbit and bison skirt steak around the huge, open flamed grills.  “The menu was driven by the harvest,” he said as he wiped his brow and turned over a massive piece of beef.  Tony’s drive to use local produce started with a simple pursuit of quality ingredients.  

Grilling Up the Meat!Before the third course was presented, a Cabernet Franc 2006 appeared in my glass.  Although I’m not a fan of reds, I could appreciate the clear, full bodied taste of the Cabernet and believed it to be a fitting accompaniment to the New Frontier Farm Mixed Grill.  The grill included the aforementioned Piedmontese beef, a rabbit terrine and a bison skirt steak.  Seasoned only to bring out the meat’s natural flavors, the cuts were succulent and delicious.  The skirt steak was unbelievably velvety, almost melting in my mouth.  As with the second course, the mixed grill was served on heaping platters.  By this time in the dinner, everyone was relaxed and old friends, so the plates were passed around as if it was a family dinner.  

Caromont Farm Chevre Cheesecake As dessert was served, everyone tucked into the Caromont Farm Chevre Cheesecake placed before them.  A strawberry black pepper preserves and Chantilly cream sauce accented the cheesecake, a mellower version of the heavier, traditional ricotta and cream cheese cheesecakes.  A sweet but flavorful Late Harvest Viognier was paired with the cheesecake – and a favorite of several of my dinner companions.  The knowledgeable servers explained how harvesting the grapes later allow for a sweeter, almost port like white wine.  Although heavier than all the other wines served throughout the meal, the Late Harvest Viognier was still a crowd pleaser. 

A final treat of Virginia peanut cookies was served along with iced espresso before Tony came out to greet all the diners.  A rousing round of applause greeted him, along with flashes of cameras and shouts of praise.  He graciously accepted the compliments and chatted with every section of the table before heading back to clean up.  As we all headed back up to the orchard to our cars, full and happy, the sun gave way to night.  Fireflies seemed to be lighting the path back to the orchard, reminding me that I was a long way from the city.  This was a unique event, allowing the consumer and the producer to come together over the very food that binds them.  A celebration of the season and the hard workers who bring it to us every week, the supper was a huge success.  And I walked away richer in the knowledge that I truly know where my food is coming from.

Smith Meadows Farm Day, 2009

SMFSIGN Though I can't say I grew up in a rural area, I was definitely far enough away from an urban center to have first hand experience with "farms." When I was quite young, my parents once took me to Stony Kill Farm, a New York State educational farm. Being, oh, five or so, I didn't give a second thought to the cows and chickens, wandering about like they owned the place. (Also had my first experience with an electric fence that day — parents, just let your children grab it. You know they want to, and they gotta learn sometime). By synthesizing the things I saw that day with the information gleaned from my Richard Scarry books, I came to the conclusion that this is just how farms are, and that that pork chop I'd eaten the previous day came from such a place, and may or may not have once been a pig in a hat with talking worm friend.

However creepy this may have seemed to me at the time, the real origin of my meal was probably far more disturbing. I don't have to tell you all about the hideous conditions under which most animals are raised, and this recent Swine Flu H1N1 thing is just the latest incarnation of the virulent side effects. The animals themselves are certainly not in any position to wander, and I am pretty damn sure they have neither hats nor friends.

SMFHOUSE But there are some people doing it right. If any of you frequent the area's numerous farmers' markets, you've no doubt come across Smith Meadows, purveyor of fine grass-fed meats and awesome homemade pasta out of Berryville, VA. Last Saturday, in an effort to educate and connect with their customers, the Pritchard family and their staff threw open the doors and fields, to "extend a hearty welcome to all visitors who want to see a contemporary 'Old-Fashioned Farm.' " Promising field tours, cooking demonstrations, and catered lunch featuring pork and beef barbecue, the event sounded promising, so Eliza and I made the hour's drive out to the West Virginia border for the 10:00 start time.

Arriving promptly at 10:15 (yeah, we overslept), we converged on the main house (which operates year-round as a B & B) with about forty others for the beginning of the tour. The group was led by Forrest Pritchard, who with his sister Betsy and several other family members, runs the daily operations on the farm. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Forrest took us on a tour of the the smaller Virginia portion of Smith Meadows, whose 500 acres straddles the VA/WV line.

SMFBEES About a hundred yards up the driveway from the main house is the apiary, the first stop on our tour. The small collection of hives and their maintenance are contracted out to Eric Lindberg of nearby Rock Ridge Farm and Apiary, who personally comes to tend the hives every week or so. The eight colony towers set up along the creek provide enough insects to pollinate all the plants for about a mile around. According to Forrest, Smith Meadows is essentially a grass farm, with the animals there to just do the mowing, so making sure the native plants are properly pollinated is rather important.

Though bees are great and all, the gaggle of children in the group quickly grew restless, requiring something a bit bigger, and, oh, "farmier" to hold their attention. We trucked onward to the southwest quadrant of the pasture, and into an antiquated apple orchard-come-pasture with pigs in residence. Smith Meadows pastures about 150 to 175 of these guys every year, most of which grow to nearly 300SMFPIG1 pounds. Unlike industrially raised  pigs, which subsist on any number of animal byproducts and other undesirables, Smith Meadows' pigs live on a combination of soy, corn, barley, and what they find in pasture, which may includes apples, mushrooms, and to my surprise, mice. The hogs are kept until their 11th month, at which point they are butchered locally at Horsts Meats of Hagerstown, MD — these two pictured at left probably made the trip this week. It was both heartening and bizarre to see pigs living so naturally. Though it is easy to forget, standard pigs are only a few generations of selective breeding away from their wild ancestors, and are quite clearly as comfortable in the woods as in a wallow.

SMFCATTLECALL  The curious animals followed us a good ways towards our next destination, pasture land to the north currently hosting the farm's cattle herd. Conspicuously absent were the men on horseback and in pickup trucks, those icons of the American beef industry. Also absent when we arrived at the gate were the cows, which Forrest soon remedied with a few loud bellows of "Here Boy!" or something to that effect. WithinSMFCattle2 minutes there was a thunderous chorus of "moos," and soon after several dozen pairs of bovine eyes watching us cautiously from a copse of trees. Forrest explained that the cows are conditioned to follow his call to new pastures, making the entrapments of industrial herds unnecessary. The farm raises about 200 to 225 head of cattle per year, most of which are hybrid breeds, whose inherent vigor give them good size and meat quality without the need of hormones or feed lots. Veal calves are also kept with the common herd; one little guy ran a circuit, back and forth, following us as we left the pasture.

SMFDucks The last stop before lunch was the poultry section to the northwest of the main house. Though they do not breed on premises, Smith Meadows raises sizable flock of laying hens, meat chickens, turkeys, and as of very recently, ducks. The chicks are brooded in re-purposed farm equipment, and then pastured for forty days in special hutches. Through regular fence movement and clever design, the chickens stay growing and healthy without the need of antibiotics or supplements, and the earth is not overworked by their presence. Thanks to an exemption in USDA rules, Smith Meadows is allowed to slaughter their own poultry, which they do in a clean, modern processing center just to the west of the hutches.

SMFLUNCH At this point it was nigh on 1:00, and with the tour over, we retired to the big tent for an outstanding lunch of beef barbecue, pork ribs, and accouterments, all from Smith Meadows, with greens from nearby Spring Meadow Farms. To follow would be cooking demonstrations, house tours, and lectures, all of which were added value to an already worthwhile morning.

It's easy to get self-righteous about the whole natural foods thing without really understanding why. Sure, there are lots of books on the subject, and gut instinct goes a long way, but all of that pales compared to seeing the situation for oneself. In the end, I know that most of those animals are bound for the table, but at least in the meantime, I now know firsthand that they lived with dignity, and without physical or psychological discomfort. So too do I know the meat is healthier, from seeing the animals, and the conditions in which they live. Perhaps most importantly, I now know firsthand that when I buy products from Smith Meadows, I am supporting some really friendly, cool people, with a great perspective on food and business. Thank you much to the Pritchard family and everyone else at the farm — in my mind, Farm Day was a huge success, and I hope you do it again next year.

Smith Meadows
568 Smithfield Lane
Berryville, VA 22611
(877) 955-4389
Farmer's Market Schedule here.
(Their ground beef is also featured in the burger at Cafe Saint-Ex)