It’s Us and Fortnum & Mason*
This year, after two years of rearing Norfolk Bronze turkeys and with our increasing interest in heritage breeds and free-range, flavoursome meat, we have decided to rear Bourbon Red turkeys for Christmas. They are a breed that remains almost unchanged since its heyday in the 1940s and 50s. The Bourbon Red originated in Kentucky in the 1800s as a cross between the Buff, Bronze and White Holland breeds. Over the years, the narrow breasted bird has almost disappeared giving way to the square-shaped Norfolk Bronze and the Kelly Bronze that dominate the Christmas table bird market. The thing about the Red is that there’s been no selective breeding and there are so few of them about. They’re not like turkeys as we know them; they look like turkeys of the 1950s – they’re vintage birds!
We bought our birds from Rutland Organic Poultry, who are licensed by the Soil Association to produce organic free range poultry – turkeys, chickens, cockerels and geese and eggs. Their stock is organic and welfare is of great importance to them and they only use organic certified feed, so we know they had the best start in life. Pat of Cuckoo Farm delivered them herself and was happy to share her many years of turkey breeding experience with us over dinner. She warned us that owing to their long legs and necks, the Bourbon Reds are very athletic (at 11 weeks, they are already starting to fly around the stable!) and suggested we might consider clipping their wings if we don’t want them roosting on the roof of the stables or in our trees!
The poults’ feathers are a beautiful pale apricot colour, which will darken into the distinctive chestnut red. They have tiny prehistoric heads with chalk-blue skin around the eyes and lumpy scarlet wattles all surmounted on a thin and weaving neck. They are already wonderfully noisy making an insistent, attention-seeking din each time we pass. They are very friendly and will happily peck at our boots if we don’t pay them enough attention. Colin walks them out to the paddock first thing in the morning, brings them back for their lunch, walks them back to the paddock for the afternoon and then walks them home each evening to keep them safe from foxes overnight.
Like Cuckoo Farm, we are growing our birds slowly and they will spend most of their lives roaming freely over our clover-rich organic river paddock in the lovely surroundings of The Lint Mill. Free-range turkeys do pick up flavour from pasture, but they are also being fed a diet of organic feed from Hi Peak Organic Feeds, and will be finished on organic oats to further improve their flavour. Each night, they are bedded down on fresh, finely chopped, dust free, rape straw in one of our stables to keep them safe overnight. When the inevitable date on the turkey calendar comes round, slaughter takes place at a neighbouring organic farm, so the birds feel very little stress. The carcases are dry plucked and hand finished. We then hang our birds to develop their flavour and tenderness.
It’s the first year we’ve reared them, so they’re an experiment. Pat from Cuckoo Farm says there’s no better bird for eating. They have very well-developed leg muscles and the breast is very moist with a good flavour, but they’re more like a game bird, lots of brown meat, very different from what we’re used to. Pat can remember the Norfolk Bronze before it became a seasonal star, it looked just like the Red does now before all the selective breeding that made it the breast heavy bird we know. We’re very excited to be rearing this heritage bird and feel sure our Christmas meal this year will be one to remember.
Our birds will be ready by December 23 weighing between 4kg and 10kg and are sold oven ready with giblets (for that wonderful gravy!) at £11.50 per kilo. We are only rearing 15 birds and 12 are already pre-ordered, so if you’d like one please order soon!
*If we’ve sold out, you can always order yours from Fortnum & Mason.