Getting good birds in your kitchen
My brother, Chase, and I dropped by JoAnn the Chicken Lady’s farm last weekend. We were picking up a bird for me to kill, clean, pluck and eat for a photo essay Chase is working on for school. After she picked us out a nice Cornish bird, we started talking about what kinds of ducks to serve at Union. She’s been raising five breeds for the past few years and knows a few things about their characters—and not just how Muscovies, with their darker flesh, are more goosey than Pekin ducks. She has found that they tend to be a bit dumber, too, and a little more vicious with their claws. As she puts it, they are “just not as pleasant company.” Some types of Pekin ducks are like broiler chickens: “Eating machines,” she says. “It’s sad when you get to know them—you can just pick them up and toss them about like turnips.”
JoAnn wants to offer me Silver Appleyard ducks. They sound like they are going to taste really good. They were bred way back when, by an Englishman named Reginald Appleyard who wanted a good eating duck that could also lay a few eggs. JoAnn wants to build the breeding stock back up to the quality of Appleyard’s “old fashioned” birds—that is, to a commercial level, but without having all the survival skills bred out of them.
The lesson here is that by keeping the integrity of the birds’ genes intact, their survival skills, like foraging for food, make for a more balanced bird that has a richer, cleaner flavour. Basically, good genes make for good meat because the ducks can fend off disease on their own without being stuffed with antibiotics. You could say JoAnn is raising and breeding ducks to taste how they used to taste. I am looking forward to serving these sweet, plump, tasty ducks at Union. So when I write about giving Union windows, this is what I mean: cutting away the crap and building relationships with people like JoAnn so that Union, like a good, strong tree, can grow from the core.
The Cornish chicken Chase and I took back to the farm was a beautiful, tasty bird, and the photo essay was a success, too. When the professor asked Chase if this shot was staged, he told him, “No, it’s not staged. My brother just thinks his life is one long Bob Dylan song.”