The distance from my home to Schmucker’s Amish farm in Homer, Michigan is only a 75-minute drive. I visited this farm last week yet felt as if I were transported back decades in time. Here is a place where draft horses and human fortitude frothily combine with the DNA of a culture’s determination to sustain an agrarian utopia.
My intention with this visit was to observe, firsthand, the source and centerpiece of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner: The turkey – including the gobble.
Horse-drawn buggies are the sole means of transportation in this, as in most, Amish communities. From the field, I watched two open-air buggies, filled with gleeful children, being led by horses clip-clopping down the nearby road. We waved excitedly to one another as the children jiggled along, returning to school from a field trip.
I, too, took a similar ride led by the family’s beloved horse, Dolly, to visit the turkeys. “These turkeys are so flavorful because their diet is primarily the rich pasture grasses,” says Arbor Farm’s Robert Cantelon. “The nutritious foods from these small family farms are created by the sun’s ultraviolet power, which is passed through the grasses, grains and animals to us.”
My experience has been that turkeys raised on small diversified family farms, like the Schmucker’s, have the richest, meatiest flavor. Many turkey brands are free of antibiotics and hormones, but my family and I appreciate the flavor profile of turkeys that have been raised on grassy pastures in their natural environments.
I wish I were the type of cook who could stick to one tried and true recipe and be done with it. Like Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure, condemned to forever repeat the same task of pushing a rock up a mountain, only to see it roll down again, I try a different method of roasting turkey each year.
Cook’s Illustrated (December, 2009) magazine features a recipe for “Old Fashioned Stuffed Turkey: Lost Technique Adds Big Flavor”, the recipe inspired from James Beard’s American Cookery (1972). Reading the article and recipe intimates turkey nirvana, promising a skin as “crackling-crisp as pork rinds” from a baking soda and salt procedure. I haven’t tried this method before. Could this technique be the Holy Grail?
Unlike the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, however, I did not “bard” my turkey with salt pork. The author explained that today’s turkeys are milder in flavor and barding with strips of salt pork yields a welcome smoky flavor.
The bird I’m roasting is unique and I’d like to savor the meat unencumbered, with only with a whisper of rosemary. If you would like to bard your turkey, cut 12 ounces of salt pork (equal parts fat and meat) into 1/4-inch slices and drape over the bird before roasting. Make sure you remove the salt pork before the final hot heat blast.
“My wife slowly roasts our turkey on top of our wood-burning stove,” said Mr. Schmucker, smiling at the thought of the Thanksgiving dinner that awaits him, his wife and their 3 children. The Smucker family’s pioneering spirit filled me with an impulsive urge to chuck it all and buy a little farm.
Then my eyes wandered to the animals, eager for my departure so they could be fed; the fields waiting to be plowed; the empty buckets by the water pump and the antiquated golf cart, whose wheels were being recycled to be used as part of a plow. I shivered at the tasks that lay before sundown, shook hands with David Schmucker, hopped into my Jeep and returned home.