Words by Terry Vandewater.  Recipes By Paula Marcoux.

Turkey DinnerFrom farm-fresh turkeys and hearty root vegetables to tangy cranberries and soothing apple cider, you can use the local bounty of southeastern Massachusetts to deepen the experience of eating during this holiday season. By taking advantage of what is plentiful and available locally, you support your local farmers and add pleasure and satisfaction to your menus. Try re-thinking some of your holiday favorites by using accessible produce from our area. Infusing some new ingredients or side dishes into old-time favorites can give your holiday meals a new twist, while pleasing the pickiest of palates. Here are a few suggestions and recipes that incorporate local flavor into your holiday cooking.

Let’s talk turkey—there are a variety of turkey farms and stores in the area, including Asack Turkey Farm in West Bridgewater, Bongi’s Turkey Roost in Duxbury, Belwing Acres in Seekonk, Gerard Turkey Farm in Marshfield and Manomet, Rainbow Turkey Farm and Dufort Farms in Rehoboth (see list at end of article.) Buy local and keep your turkey simple, roasting it with butter, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper; craft a stuffing using local bounty—oysters and last-of-the-season onions, celery, and carrots—and, voila, you have created a fabulous culinary centerpiece.

Root vegetables add a nice touch to any holiday table—and they’re in season. One of my favorite recipes calls for a combination of carrots, leeks, and parsnips. Parsnips, you say? Ah…the diamonds in the rough of the root vegetable family, parsnips are a creamy-colored relative of the carrot. Cooked just right, parsnips have a sweet and nutty flavor that will have you asking, “why don’t I eat these more often?”

Ten years ago the culinary world lost the trend-setting Sheila Lukins, co-founder of gourmet food company The Silver Palate. I thought it fitting to share a recipe that was inspired by her The New Basics Cookbook, in her honor. Using all root vegetables, this recipe uses an herb butter to enhance carrots, leeks, and parsnips, and it adds some nice color to the plate.

Create new favorites this holiday season and add some pizzazz to your dinner plate, as you deepen your connection to our region and to the people who grow our food.

Brine/Stuffing/Turkey/Gravy

Homemade and local from start to finish, a perfect holiday turkey does require lots of steps and attention to detail. The result, however, is wonderfully delicious and satisfying. These recipes lay out techniques and timing for even the most novice of cooks to coax the fullest flavor out of a bird and its trimmings.

In the morning, check your timetable. Allow 20 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey, which for our small bird came to 4 hours. More on doneness later. As you work, set aside the best parts of your vegetable trimmings for your gravy stock.

BRINE

First, we like to brine a turkey for the best flavor and moisture, so we start the night before.

  • 1 local turkey
  • 2 gallons cool water
  • 2½ cups kosher salt

In a non-reactive container large enough to hold the turkey, stir together the salt and water. Rinse the turkey inside and out. Find the giblet packet and reserve in fridge. Submerge the turkey in brine. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator for this large item, plan to use a cooler you can leave outside overnight. (You can even brine directly in a clean cooler. Substitute ice cubes for up to half the water in the brine mix)

Also the night before, bake a double batch of your favorite simple cornbread. We used cornmeal from the Plimoth Grist Mill and a recipe from the ever-reliable Joy of Cooking.

CORNBREAD OYSTER STUFFING

Make the stuffing:

  • 10 cups of crumbled cornbread
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, center stalk removed, minced
  • ½ cup vermouth
  • 1½ cups chicken broth
  • 12 oysters, shucked and coarsely chopped, oyster liquor reserved
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Spread crumbled cornbread on two cookie sheets and bake 45 minutes, or until crunchy. Stir up the crumbs and put them back in the oven, turning it off.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the thyme, rosemary, and sage. Cook another few minutes. Add the vermouth, chicken stock, and oyster liquor. Turn up the heat and bring to a simmer for a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put the toasted cornbread chunks in a large bowl. Pour on the contents of the sauté pan, adding the parsley and the oysters. Mix well. Add beaten eggs. Mix again.

ROAST TURKEY

When it’s time to stuff the turkey:

  • 1 onion or 1 apple, optional
  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack as low as possible.

Take the turkey from the brine, rinsing it with cool water inside and out. Pat dry, also inside and out. Have some skewers and twine handy. Have your roasting pan, preferably with a greased rack in it, also standing by.

Stuff both front and back cavities of the turkey loosely; the stuffing won’t all fit. Use optional onion or apple to stopper lower cavity, then secure ankles to tail with twine. Tack down neck flap over stuffing in upper cavity with a skewer. Rub turkey all over with butter and season with salt and pepper. Place on the roasting rack, tent loosely with a large sheet of foil, and ease into the oven. Pour in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the leftover stuffing to a baking dish, dotting with butter, if desired. Cover snugly with foil or a lid. Set aside, eventually baking it in 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

What about those giblets? Rinse them off and determine which one is the liver; set it aside. Place all the rest of the giblets in a large saucepan, adding your vegetable trimmings, plus a bit of salt. Cover with water and simmer very gently while you go about the rest of your business. Put the liver in a tiny pan, cover with cold water and a pinch of salt, simmer very gently 10 minutes, drain, cool, and set aside.

Now it’s time to look at the turkey. Pour more water in the pan if it’s drying up. At the one-hour mark, it’s probably time to start basting with pan juices; do this every half-hour or so.

About 45 minutes before your turkey should be done according to your calculations, start to look at it critically. When it’s beginning to look like a roasted turkey—skin browning and receding; leg joints feeling loose—poke a skewer deep into the thickest part of the thigh. Juices run clear when the bird is done. (Or 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.) If the skin is not as brown and crisp as you like, remove the foil for a few more minutes of additional roasting.

When satisfied that the turkey is perfectly done, remove the whole thing from the oven (putting the covered dish of leftover stuffing in the oven now). Transfer the turkey carefully to a heated platter. Put the foil back on loosely to keep warm for a resting period of at least 15 minutes.

GIBLET GRAVY

  • Pan juices from the turkey
  • Giblets and giblet broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Pour the drippings carefully from the roasting pan into a large saucepan. Skim off any fat, and bring to a simmer. Add the giblet broth, catching the solids in a strainer. Set the cooked giblets aside to cool a bit. Simmer the stock briskly 10 minutes to reduce. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry until it boils and thickens somewhat. Mince the giblets and liver. Stir it into the gravy, heat through, adjust seasonings, and it’s ready.

TO SERVE:

Admire the turkey! Spoon out the stuffing.

Carve the turkey and serve instantly. Offer gravy on the side.

TO MAKE AN UNSTUFFED TURKEY

Follow the general guidelines above (except the stuffing part…). Toss some aromatic things into the turkey’s cavities (onions, herbs, garlic, citrus), and use plenty of pepper. Calculate roasting time at 16 minutes per pound.

Whichever method you choose, don’t forget to make broth from the carcass!

Save room on the plate for your vegetables. Root Vegetables Unbundled recipe is right here.

A few of our local turkey farms and stores are listed here. Additionally, ask your favorite farmer about turkey as many raise a small number for farm friends.

This portrait of Tom appeared as the front cover for the premier issue #1 in October 2008.

Asack Turkey Farm
166 South Street
West Bridgewater, MA 02379
(508) 586-2902

Bongis Turkey Roost
414 Kingstown Way (Rte. 53)
Duxbury, MA 02331
(781) 585-2392
www.Bongis.com

Belwing Acres
773 Taunton Ave
Seekonk, MA 02771
(508) 336-9142
www.Facebook.com/BelwingTurkeyFarm

Gerard Farm of Marshfield
1331 Ocean St, Marshfield, MA 02050
(781) 834-7682
www.GerardTurkeyFarm.com

Gerard Farm of Manomet
499 State Road, Plymouth, Massachusetts 02360
(774) 283-4506
www.GerardFarmManomet.com

Rainbow Turkey Farm
199 Homestead Ave Rehoboth, MA 02769
(508) 252-4427
www.Facebook.com/RainbowTurkeyFarm