Sunday, November 22, 2009

That ain't turkey scratch kiddo!

We picked up our Thanksgiving turkey from Curtis Womach at the Hillcrest farmer's market in San Diego this morning; it's lovely (if a dead bird can be lovely). He raised it the way he raises the chickens we buy from him weekly; outdoors, pecking the ground, soaking up sunshine, sometimes roosting in the apple trees in the orchard where they live and die. He feeds them a frightfully expensive organic poultry mash, and of course they have access to all the little wormies and grubs they can stuff their beaks with (which means they're richer in fat soluble vitamins than birds raised only on feed).

When you buy a bird from Curtis, you also have the option of accepting a plastic zipper baggie stuffed with heads, feet, hearts, necks, and livers; which I always do. You have to wait a little longer, as he packs the goodies to order "I'll take as many livers as you can part with today Curtis, and some extra feet would be nice. Oh, you have a rooster head? Cool, yeah, I'll take that too!". This leads to some interesting conversations and recipe exchanges in the line.

I've learned that Curtis raises 'slow growing' poultry varieties, which means that they take longer to come to market size, and in the meantime develop their flavor and nutrient stores. These birds were breed for tastiness and hardiness, not size. Naturally, it costs more to raise them because they eat a lot of feed while they're growing at a slower rate, but they bear very little resemblance to the genetic freaks (that can't even stand up because their breasts are so large) the industrial outfits pawn off to uneducated consumers; the Pamela Anderson breed is very popular right now... sexy. Curtis' birds can afford to be 'straight edge' because they're naturally healthy eating all that organically grown and wild foraged food and getting lots of exercise, fresh air and sunshine... oh yeah, and probably sex too.

When it comes time to bring an end (albeit an early one) to their healthy, happy, sexy existence, this is done in a humane and careful manner by Curtis himself; who would possibly respect the animals during the slaughtering process more than the one who raised the birds from chicks? He eviscerates them by hand in a meticulous fashion because the innards are not discarded like they they would be in a commercial operation, but rather offered to his customers.

I typically cut my chicken down the middle and roast one half for Sunday dinner, and use the other half (along with the heads, feet, necks and innards) to make a huge pot of stock for risotto, soup bases, sauces and such. The meat falls off the carcass after about an hour and a half of simmering, which I then collect out of the pot (returning the bones to continue simmering for another 24 hours or so) to use for tacos, chicken salad, soup, etc. throughout the week. The livers I use to make a version of 'meat mousse' that my family devours on toast almost daily. If I don't get around to making mousse, I just chop the liver finely and fry it up in bacon grease to mix with scrambled eggs... a little hot sauce and yum! He also offers a discount on a dozen deep yellow-yolked eggs when you purchase a bird, so all in all, $15 or $20 will feed you for an entire week if you're thrifty and use everything.

Oftentimes he brings along his two adorable sons who run a little side business under the table (literally) selling everything from giant pine cones and eagle feathers, to wallets made out of hemp, as well as entertaining the customers waiting in line with that sweet and earnest Womach charm.

It's a seriously high demand vocation for Curtis (no doubt also an exercise in patience and faith for his wife) and an arguably expensive grocery budget choice for his customers, but having come to know and respect the integrity he brings to his work this last year, I can't bring myself to buy chicken from the grocery store anymore. Even the (still expensive, though not quite as expensive) organic, 'free-range' chickens (and turkeys) at Whole Foods pale by comparison in terms of flavor and overall quality.

So it is with a grateful heart and a hearty appetite that sixty or so families here in San Diego, blessedly, mine included, will slice into their locally pastured turkey, and give thanks for the Womach family and the vision, dedication and labor of love they live daily. We are lucky pilgrims indeed.




  1. Beautiful!
    What a wonderful story of the way that Curtis cares for his birds. I'd love to see your 'meat mousse' recipe if you could share it. I have a mass amount of organic chicken livers that I am slowly using up.

  2. Hi Annie, what a neat post - we all need to write more of these in thankfulness to our farmers. At the Weston A. Price/Wise Traditions conference recently it was very moving and appropriate when we all gave the farmers there a standing ovation. :)

    Thanks for joining in on Real Food Wednesday!


  3. Great post. I found you on Kelly the Kitchen Kop's site and I live a couple hours north of San Diego and visit there several times a year and always buy a chicken from Curtis, in fact I am going to San Diego next weekend for the food event at the Little Italy farmers market.