1.07.2010

The Local Food Report: a Perry Special

I'm sorry if I sounded a little out of sorts the other day. I didn't mean to, but I have a feeling that I might have, and so today I decided to bring you flowers. Tulips, to be specific, a little bit wilted, but from what I've heard it's the thought that counts.

It's just that sometimes, when I spend a little too much time listening to Living on Earth and Science Friday and reading books like Collapse, I get overwhelmed. I wonder what on earth we're supposed to do to get out of the mess we've gotten in, and even if we could figure it out, how we would convince everyone, all at once, to get on board with a colossal community solve. Luckily, this time, just before things got too deep, I ran into my friend Drew. Drew is one of those people who makes you feel like the world is definitely, without a doubt, going to be fine. Not even just fine, but really good, like in an all around a-okay rose bushes and tinted glasses sort of way.

Drew is twenty-one, and he grew up on his family's farm near Corn Hill Beach in Truro. His last name is Locke, but going back his grandfather's name is Perry, and the Perry farm, or Hillside Farms, is usually how people in Truro know the place. The Perrys are the ones that sell homegrown cucumbers and tomatoes and watermelons at their stand on Route 6 in the summertime, and a long time back, they had chicken and eggs and beef, too.

Drew's in school right now—at the Stockbridge Ag program up at UMass Amherst—the program that started the school, and the one his grandfather went to, too. He's all excited about things like pigs raised on restaurant scraps and the Buy Fresh Buy Local movement and Joel Salatin's systems for growing healthy chickens, the so-called "salad bar."

Back when his grandfather ran the farm, in the 50s and 60s, the land supported over 10,000 birds. Half were layers, half were broilers, and they all lived in a big, three story barn. In the winter, when the birds laid too many eggs to sell, Mr. Perry trucked the extras up to Boston. And in the summer, when all the visitors came down, he ran a delivery service around town. Eventually, though, government restrictions got tighter, and the number of birds he was allowed to have shrank down into the hundreds.

Then, in the 80s, there was an event known as the Perry Barbecue. I will spare you the gorey details, but suffice it to say that it involved a storm, and the chickens, and some lightening, and that it was not a very pretty sight. The Box Lunch even named a sandwich after the debacle—the Perry Special, with chicken and bbq sauce—which you can still order to this day. After that, the chicken operation went belly up.

Drew's goal for this summer is to bring at least a few hundred of those chickens back.

He's thought about it a lot. He's done a lot of number scratching and note taking and idea bouncing and regulation studying, and he thinks, he's pretty sure, it can be done. His grandfather is a little bit skeptical—Don't put $4 into a beet you can only sell for $2, he says—and Drew knows it's good advice. Only with a pasture-based system—one that relies on grass instead of purchased feed—he thinks he can make things work. He won't have to rebuild the huge old barn, either, because he plans to graze the chickens rotationally, moving them around the grass in bottomless cages to a new 12' by 12' plot every day. When slaughter time comes, he can hook into the state's new Mobile Poultry Processing Unit, the MPP pilot program, and save himself $30,000 on a slaughterhouse. Then on the business side of things, he'll replicate his grandfather's model—tapping into the market through the farm stand and deliveries. When he talks about it, he breaks into a huge, contagious grin. It's pretty great.

The part that gives me the most hope, though, is the way what Drew's been learning at Stockbridge has shaped what he wants to do. It's easy to wonder, sometimes, just how much of an effect writing something down during a lecture can have—whether or not anyone is really going to do anything with what's on that piece of paper or not. But I think, when I look at what kids I went to college with are doing, people who only graduated three years ago, and what Drew plans to do before he even finishes up, that knowledge is actually shaping our generations' dreams and jobs quite a bit. And that of course, in turn, is shaping what ends up in our kitchens, and on our dinner plates.

With any luck, before long, it will be one of Drew's organic, pastured, Truro-grown and Truro-processed chickens we're cooking up. I can hardly wait.

OVEN FRIED CHICKEN

My mother used to make this chicken, and my sister and I liked it so much we called it The Chicken. What you'll find below isn't so much of a recipe as an off-the-cuff outline, but the good news is you really can't go wrong. The dish comes from my grandmother, who says she has absolutely no idea when she started making it, or why, except that oven fried chicken was all the rage at one point. She says she used to make it in Youngstown, Ohio, when my mother was little, and when I tried to ask her about the details, she said that it's so simple that there really aren't any.

She can see herself making it in their old Youngstown kitchen, she said, turning on the oven and melting the butter in a big Pryrex casserole dish, putting a little bit of flour in a bag with some salt and pepper, and then shaking a few chicken thighs and drumsticks around until everything was properly coated. Then, according to the recipe she wrote out for my mother, she would drop the chicken in the butter, put the whole mess in the oven, and cook the chicken pieces for about a half hour on each side. My mother must have added the herbs at some point, and I have a sneaky feeling she changed the flour to whole-wheat, too. Don't be afraid to do your own improvising, and be sure to let us know how it goes.

4-6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound assorted chicken cuts—a mixture of thighs, wings, and drumsticks works well, because they cook more evenly when they're the same size, and also, thighs tend to be pretty cheap

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the butter in a 9" by 13" casserole dish, and stick it into the warming oven until it melts. Combine the flour, herbs, and salt and pepper in a quart-sized plastic bag and mix well. Add the chicken and shake until every piece is well coated with the flour mixture. Arrange the chicken pieces in the casserole dish in the melted butter so that none of the pieces are resting on top of each other. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over, and bake them for another 25-30 minutes, or until crispy and golden, on the other side. Enjoy hot, maybe with a salad or biscuits if you are feeling especially indulgent.

P.S. Up-Cape, there are already a few places to buy locally raised birds. There's Ocean Song Farm in Cummaquid, and also Miss Scarlett's Blue Ribbon Farm in Yarmouth Port (508.420.9748). Just over the bridge, I've gotten very good chicken from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth.

7 comments :

Jen R. (emeraldsunshine.org) said...

I really want to have my own chickens, but I live inside the town limits of a place that won't allow it. I think I'm going to have to research how to change that law.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jen,

I live in Brunswick, ME (where Elspeth grew up), and we had the same problem here. Just a few months ago, however, a small group of citizens were successful in getting the town ordinance changed, and people are now allowed to keep chickens (but no roosters!) in town. Portland, ME, passed a similar ordinance, I believe last year. So there are certainly models for how to effect this change if you are interested. I think it's a pretty widespread effort now, so I'm sure there are other models too.

Good luck with your efforts!

Liz Pierson

Jen R. (emeraldsunshine.org) said...

Thanks so much Liz!

Meg said...

Hi Elspeth,
I'm wondering...besides getting in touch with our mutual friend, a certain Ms. Vivian, how would I go about acquiring your contact info? As a (been living off-Cape for a while!) Cape Codder looking to merge into the local farming scene, I thought it wouldn't hurt to check in with you. If you would be inclined to chat, that would be great!
In case i screw up this post, my email is meg.kershaw@gmail.com.
thanks.

Elspeth said...

Jen, I'm so glad you stopped by, and Liz, thank you for helping out! You never know what you can make happen with a little bit of squawking. (Ok, that was a bad pun, but still.) Jen, if you find more templates for change, please let us know.

And Meg, I'd love to chat—I just sent you an email, so look for me there!

All the best,
Elspeth

anna said...

Hi Elspeth!
I love this entry. I grew up in the 80's and 90's(and still live) next to the Perry Farm, and as a kid, I remember peering out my kitchen window from time to time to see their cows, gone vigilante, being 'grass fed' from my very own yard. Drew's grandmother made some AMAZING chicken pot pies--see if you can get her recipe! And, as it happens, I even babysat Andrew and his brother a few times. I am SO happy to see what he's doing. I myself now work on a farm in Eastham, growing (yep) turnips, blueberries and more. I just returned yesterday from the 23rd Annual NOFA (Northeastern Organic Farm Assoc)Conference, newly inspired. Joel Salatin gave some really exhorting talks! (The meal of the day consisted of a 800 person local food potluck--I love these people)
I came on your blog today to get a look at your list of local food vendors because I want barcode-free eggs, meat and veggies. Hearing about Drew doing what he's doing next door makes me so happy! More power to you, Drew.
And you, too! <3

Anna Henning
I'd love to chat sometime! annaeh@gmail.com

Elspeth said...

Anna, thank you so much for getting in touch. I love the idea of the Perrys' cows grazing in your yard. I also love the idea of chicken pot pie...I will be giving Drew a call about that!

I'd love to hear more about what you're doing...please keep us all posted!

All the best,
Elspeth

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