in which our turkey walks on the wild side

in which our turkey walks on the wild side

He's no beauty, but he sure does taste good!

Never known for their grace or beauty, wild turkeys can be counted on to be good for supper. Having lived in areas of Pennsylvania where wild turkeys have always been abundant, I was somewhat surprised to read that our turkey population was ever endangered, yet  today I find it’s true.

Turkeys were abundant throughout North America when the settlers arrived, and soon became an important food source for the colonists.  During the 1800’s, deforestation combined with unrestricted hunting decimated wild turkey populations. The Game Commission, by operating a successful trap and transfer program, imposing restrictions on hunting and even maintaining a turkey farm has been very successful in restoring our turkey populations.

The turkeys did their part by becoming very adaptive and claiming as home some pretty unlikely habitats. Today in Pittsburgh’s heavily populated suburban neighborhoods, we don’t think twice about turkeys running through our yards and crossing the roads.  Even watching a turkey’s awkward attempts to fly is pretty commonplace.  But still, the daily life of a turkey remains somewhat of a mystery to me.  This article, while 10 years old, is still an interesting read about our local wild gobblers.

Rare to see: I found a hen sitting on this nest of wild turkey eggs on the farm. Not sure who was more startled, the turkey or me!

My cousin has over the years become an excellent cook with the natural progression being a freshly developed interest in good ingredients and sustainable living.  Part of this journey for him has involved exploring alternatives to our industrial meat system. His strategy for making improved choices includes his decision to become a hunter and harvest his own meat, along with splitting a side of pastured beef raised by a local farmer with a few friends.

This spring, he bagged his first turkey – a jake (young male) and for my sausage making needs, he kindly shared a breast and a thigh.  My inspiration for turkey sausage is this recipe  for Turkey Meatball (Polpette alla Mollie) from Oprah.com.  The recipe was created by Chef Mollie of Trattoria Mollie in California and makes ground turkey (which let’s be honest, can be a bit bland) rich and delish. Because half of my eaters don’t like spicy food, I didn’t use the crushed red pepper and I like it almost as well.

Resting meat mixture awaits a good food processor grinding.

I mixed my cubed turkey with some pork fat, grated pecorino, chopped plumped black raisins and fresh, chopped Italian parsley from our garden and put it in the fridge for the flavors to marry. Check out the mixture here.

Being the only person in America without a KitchenAid stand mixer, I used my food processor for the grinding and the stuffing was done with this Oster Jerky Maker rig which worked very well (13 bucks thank you Bill!).

This Jerky making rig did a darn good job for 13 bucks!

So here we are, chilled, ground meat mixture, stuffing rig, and finished sausages.  Since I’m only two-handed, you’ll have to take my word for the fact that I really did stuff these babies myself. Working alone, it was all I could manage to handle the sausage, let alone the camera. Altogether, it wasn’t the Lucy and Ethel event I was dreading. I was actually somewhat competent and organized.

I cannot believe I made these myself - two coils of shiny, solid, beautiful sausage

This sausage is rich and the pecorino makes it a bit salty. You would never know the raisins were hiding in there unless I told you.  I thought it best to let the sausage dominate, and decided to support it with a classic white sauce.

Served over homemade pasta, again thanks to my cousin who makes a beautiful noodle, I’m feeling very satisfied.  Bring on that frankfurter challenge – I’m ready!

Yum! Home made pasta, home made sausage made of my cousin's wild turkey, and a classic white sauce

One of my favorite things about sausage is the thick, dark, carmelized drippings left in the pan after you fry the meat. I like to drizzle that over top of my sauce to further richen up the flavor.

In which we have blisters on our fingers

In which we have blisters on our fingers

And not the Beatles kind if you know what I mean….

My goodness, do I ever admire those pioneers.  Now that I am officially a gardener and putter upper of food, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the Pioneers.

I know, it’s a little crazy, but usually it’s in a moment of manual labor induced frustration.  I find myself getting whiny and then I think about a day in the life of a typical Pioneer.  Now that puts my silly mishap into perspective.

Charcuterie is trendy and cool these days, but truly it’s about preserving the harvest and eating seasonally.  Mostly, animals were butchered each winter when the temperature was low enough and a slew of charcuterie projects were handled immediately.  Fat was rendered for lard or tallow, hides were tanned for leather goods, bacons and hams were cured and smoked, jerky and sausages made and so on.

One of my favorite books is  The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. As we’ve been working our Charcutepaloozian way through bacons and sausages,  I’m reminded of Ms. Lewis’ description of hog killing in her community.  It took place in December since the cold weather was essential, and the families all joined in helping each other put up their meat & fat for the year.

She remembers that in addition to the anticipation of the special meals they would enjoy after the hogs were butchered, it was the “highly festive feeling of everyone working together that made this one of our favorite times in the year.”  (I do kind of have to laugh at the idea of how this little festival would be appreciated today at American community centers across the land… )

 

I take putting up food seriously, but thankfully, a bad harvest is no life or death crisis for us.  At least today.  For the Pioneers though, failure meant starvation; the for real kind.

Pioneers had to be thinking ahead for future meals ALL the time.  There had to be enough wood on hand to heat the stove, ingredients had to be planned for as much as a year ahead – there was no 24 hour super store backup.  And, projects had to be finished no matter how long they took or how tired or busy you were. Procrastination meant possible death – no kidding!

 

But, once again, I wander.  Could it be because I procrastinated a wee bit myself?  Thank goodness for the excess pork butt I had left over from last month’s smoking challenge because, believe it or not, my local butcher shop BURNED DOWN.  To the ground.  The reason? Their smoker…. be careful out there Paloozers!

I’m tempted by the highly flavored seasoned stuff; I really love it.  But today I’m stubbornly sticking to the most basic of basics.  My reason? I want to make pantry staples that I will use all year long.  If my seasoning is too specific, I’m limited in the recipes I can use later.  I want to be able to make fast food of the slow food kind later, so I need a freezer and pantry full of solid basics today.

Diced pork butt seasoned with kosher salt & finely chopped garlic

My pork has great flavor, so all I added is kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and some finely chopped garlic.  I chopped the pork fine (hence the blisters – sharpen those knives friends), mixed in my seasonings and let the flavors marry for a few hours in the fridge.

I used my food processor to grind the sausage and found the texture to be perfect.  The part I didn’t get so perfect is my seasoning mix.  I think they were too salty.  I wasn’t careful enough with my conversions I suppose.  I’ll be more careful next time – and there will be plenty of next times.

For this meal,  I went to a pantry favorite,  roasted peppers preserved in oil.  These are so useful not just for the peppers (a little goes a long way) but for the oil.  I mix it into pasta,  drizzle it onto polenta and toast.  I pan fried the sausage patties and dropped one into a little puddle of this oil and served with a couple of peppers and a tart salad of mixed greens in vinaigrette.

With my sausage patties formed and frozen, all I need to do to get a quick local meal on the table is to fry the sausages and toss the salad.  And to me, that’s what Charcutepalooza is all about.

Home-made sausage, hot peppers in oil & a crisp green salad

Hot Peppers from our garden preserved in oil. Drizzle over home-made sausage on soft white Italian bread! Yum!