I’ve known Darrel Winter and his wife Corrine Dahm since about 2005 when I started doing volunteer work for Slow Food Calgary. I met a lot of Alberta farmers in the six years I worked actively on the board of that organization. Winter and Dahm stood out. Anyone who meets them appreciates the honest and earnest way they conduct themselves and how that translates to the animal husbandry practices of their turkey farm.
In 2007 I first visited their farm and started calling it “the turkey spa”. Beyond a wholesome farm smell, the air is crisp and clean. There is fresh straw bedding laid daily for the turkeys. They have access to the great outdoors, food and water at all times. They are calm. Their life is calm. The only thing missing is a bit of Bach playing softly in the background.
Winter’s father converted the farm from chickens to turkeys in 1958 and Winter still feeds the turkeys the same program his father devised. We’ll talk a bit about that here, share some photos and I’ll share my favourite way to cook a turkey.
Winter’s Turkey Farm raises their turkeys naturally. That means that they are never exposed to antibiotics or pesticides. They take that a step further for their organic turkeys; Dahm grows all those turkey’s vegetables in her garden and all their feed is certified organic. They also raise an American Heritage Breed called Bronze Beauty.
A typical commercially raised turkey has about 10 weeks from birth to slaughter. The Winter’s turkeys are fed about 6 weeks longer. There are turkeys on the farm from June to December each year. Winter says that they are fed such a great diet they become self-basting birds. They are never injected with water or salt like commercially processed birds. I’ve had butchers tell me that a Winter’s turkey will produce far more meat when deboned than commercial breeds even though the two birds might weigh the same before cooking. The Winter’s turkeys are all meat and not augmented with fluid.
I’ve included pictures of young turkeys above and ones close to processing weight below. Then, most importantly, I’ve included a picture of my Bronze Beauty turkey from Christmas last year. I brine my turkey, stick it in the oven and forget about it. I never baste it or fuss. It always cooked to perfection and truly turns out looking every bit the Bronze Beauty.
I always cook my stuffing seperately and find these birds will cook in about 15 minutes per pound. I plan to have the bird finished well before my guests arrive. I take the bird out of the oven, tent it with foil and leave it for a good 20 minutes. Then I slice the whole breast off each side of the bird intact and gently cut on the cross side, thin slices leaving a strip of skin intact for each of those white meat slices. I leave the two drumsticks intact and as I am a dark meat person, right about then, I’m wishing the turkey mated with an octupus so there would be enough drumsticks to go around. I finish carving and set the whole thing on a platter covered in foil at 150F in my oven until it is time to serve. I make the gravy then, turn it off and reheat it just before serving.
I’ve taken a couple of hundred people out to Winter’s Turkey farm since I first started doing a “Turkey Tootle“ for City Palate magazine in 2008. Even though we are there to shop just one week before Thanksgiving and we interrupt a busy farm in the process of “catching birds” for trucking to the processor, the Winter’s always stop what they are doing and welcome everyone who is interested in understanding how much care they take in raising their animals.
Talking Turkey – The Traditional Meal
I started brining my turkey a long time ago and for me there’s not going back. I’ve tried a few brines but this is my favourite. The bird turns a deep bronze and the gravy is amazing.
Ingredients for Maple Brine
4 qts water
2 c brown sugar
1 c soy sauce
1 c maple syrup
¾ c sea salt
10 whole cloves
8 bay leaves
2 t dried thyme
2 t whole black peppercorns
Heat all of the above in a large pot until it boils. Turn off. Let cool and then pour over turkey (giblets, neck removed) in a large pot* and leave overnight in the fridge. When it’s time to cook the turkey, remove it from the pot, rinse it, pat it dry and proceed as indicated below.
*when I have a 30 lb turkey I have found a new five gallon white plastic paint bucket purchased from a hardware store a great vessel to contain my brining turkey
Ingredients for Turkey
Obviously, 1 – 25 lb turkey
2 T olive oil
2 t Salt
½ t Pepper
2 t summer savory
1 orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 onion, quartered
3 sprigs, fresh rosemary
3 sprigs, fresh thyme
1 c port or water
Ingredients for Gravy
½ c white port
2 c chicken stock
3 T butter
¼ c a.p. flour
1 T soy sauce
1T lemon juice
1 T Worcestershire sauce
½ t hot red pepper sauce
Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and reserve for the stock. Rub the turkey inside and out with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and summer savory. Fill the cavity with the orange, lemon, onion, rosemary and thyme. Tie the legs together to close cavity and truss the bird if you wish.
Place your turkey in a roasting pan in a preheated 375ºF oven for 5 minutes. Add port to the roasting pan.
Reduce heat to 325ºF and continue to roast until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh reads 165ºF.
The Winter’s provide these very detailed metric for how to know when your turkey is done.
When the turkey is ready, remove it to a serving platter or carving board. Remove the fruit and vegetables from the cavity and discard. Place a piece of foil over the turkey and allow to rest while making gravy.
For gravy, pour any juices in the roasting pan into a large measuring cup. Add Port to the roasting pan. Place on medium-high heat and scrape the bottom of the roasting pan. Add to the cup with the juices.
Skim off and discard any fat from surface of juices. You should have about 1 cup liquid. Add enough chicken stock to make 3 cups.
Heat butter in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add flour and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned. Add hot juices and bring to a boil. Add soy, lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Carve the turkey and serve to your waiting fans.
When I serve my turkey each holiday, I always pause to give thanks for my friends Corrine Dahm and Darrel Winter and the delicious turkeys they raise so that my family can enjoy a beautiful and truly local and humanely-raised animal. A Thanksgiving feast is a great way to savour food and to savour life while paying respect to all the farmers that helped make such a seemingly ordinary thing so absolutely extraordinary. Thank you Corrine and Darrel. Hugs, K.