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I am currently mesmerized by a marvelous new book entitled The Call of the Farm: An Unexpected Year of Getting Dirty, Home Cooking, and Finding Myself, by Rochelle Bilow. Rochelle is a New Yorker who serendipitously fell in love with a farm and a farmer while working on assignment as a fledgling food writer. The book weaves a tale that I know, oh, so well. She feels kindred to me. As I turn the pages, I long to meet, sip coffee, and swap farmer love stories with her. I’m prone to such sappy impulses.

At the end of each chapter there are recipes. Not just any recipes; honest dishes and pies and dinners and lunches and breakfasts that celebrate the bounty and beauty of seasonal, farm-to-table eating. Not only did Rochelle roll up her sleeves and muck out in the farmyard, she harvested many meals in the ‘Stone Hill Farm’ kitchen with each passing week, filled with heart and heartiness alike.

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About midway through her book, Rochelle describes the day when chickens are processed for their farm CSA customers. They are referred to as “meat birds” and she admits to having a surprisingly nonchalant attitude toward slaughtering the animals. This completely intrigues me.

As I pour hot water over a tea bag with one hand, with the other I hold Rochelle’s book close to my face, carefully reading and re-reading each chicken paragraph. I walk to my desk, sit down, blow the steam off my teacup and continue to scan for clues that could guide me to that place of tolerance, of accepting the cycle and sacrifice of farm livestock. It doesn’t happen. Rochelle seems to be just as struck by the notion that she didn’t have a strong emotional, visceral reaction to the activities of that day as I am.

Brave. Efficacious. Levelheaded.

Farmworthy.

The opposite of me, I think to myself.

I can’t stop reading.

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It’s worth mentioning that Rochelle’s book came in the post right on the wings of the arrival of our baby turkeys earlier this autumn. In yet another one of my Grow-It-Yerself efforts, I decided to raise a small number of turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. And, while it has been an absolute joy, it is also a massive emotional challenge. Let’s just say, even though I know I am only postponing the inevitable, our 10 turkeys have been given a pardon for Thanksgiving. See below.

Turkey Journal: October 26th, 2014
The turkeys are just about 14 weeks old and I cannot see how I will manage letting them go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They rely on me to take care of them, and feed them, and provide fresh water for them, and keep them warm and dry and safe. I know that’s all part and parcel, but I swear they have the look of love in their eyes when they see me. Sometimes I peer out the shutters of my kitchen window with a view to Turkey Hollow secretly hoping a turkey will have found a way out. I’m beginning to think this is not for me.

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I know, I know, farmers are not in the business of rearing pets. I mean, my husband tends to the poultry raised on the home farm, but those chickens are birds that I’ve never quite connected with; I prefer to spend more time with the dairy cows and calves. Besides, ten turkeys is different than a barn full of broilers, even if they are free-rangers. For the most part, our chickens leave the farm when they are ready to be processed and the next time we see them, they are roasting in the oven.

My turkeys are different. We are intimate. And, I am finding it difficult to cope with the fact that I will personally be escorting them to their private undertaker in just a matter of weeks and walking away with packages of Aga-ready dinners.

On top of all the emotion, I keep having a strong impulse to urge all meat eaters that they should have to raise and butcher an animal at least once in their lifetime. But, then I question myself, why force this issue? Yes, it is true that more people (especially newer generations) should know where their meat comes from and how it is raised. But, not sure having to go through such measures is practical or necessary. Nor, if I am honest, will it help the uneasiness with the personal endeavour that lies ahead of me.

On the other hand, our 8-year old son seems to have no qualms about it. It seems the same goes for all the animals he has met that are being reared for food. He’s very pragmatic about it all, saying “these animals have a purpose and we are giving them a good life while we can.” I’m astonished by his candor, but quickly realize that is the difference between a child raised on a farm, and someone like myself who was a true townie until I met my husband.

I decide to make contact Rochelle herself and plea for advice. She reasons, “it is exactly your respect, regret, and hesitation to harvest them that makes me believe you are worthy to do so.”

All of this makes sense, but still,   ….can someone please pass the tissues?

And, a piece of this pie?!

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Rochelle Bilow’s Butternut & Browned Butter Pie

A fantastic idea for Thanksgiving this week. Rochelle says this version is creamier than pumpkin pie, and I’d have to agree. Maple syrup stands in for sugar and the almond extract adds another dimension to the flavour that was very welcomed in our house. Our son, an extreme lover of pumpkin pie, ate three slices on baking day and asked if we could make another for Thanksgiving. My father in law, who is not a fan of pumpkin pie, loved this version. I added rye pastry leaves for an optional festive garnish, the cutters are Williams-Sonoma from a few year’s back.  Try Rochelle’s beautiful butternut & browned butter pie for yourself!

Serves eight to ten

For the filling
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) butter, divided
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
3⁄4 cup whole milk
1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
For the crust
7 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick plus 1 tablespoon) butter, melted
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
11⁄4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
Method
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons butter, then place in the preheated oven. Once the butter has melted, stir to coat the squash with it and place it back in the oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Meanwhile, begin making the crust: pour the 7 tablespoons of melted butter into a medium mixing bowl. Add 1⁄4 cup maple syrup and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, blend together the pastry flour, salt, and ginger, then use a wooden spoon to stir in the butter and syrup mixture. The dough will be wet and greasy.

Using your fingers, press the dough into a 9-inch glass pie pan so it is uniform thickness and reaches slightly over the edges of the pan. Trim any shaggy edges, then use your thumb and forefinger to crimp the ends. Bake about 18 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Maintain oven temperature.

Once the squash is cooked, begin to assemble the filling. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids have begun to brown and smell nutty. Set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked squash, browned butter, 1⁄4 cup maple syrup, eggs, milk, and almond extract. Puree to combine.

Spread the filling into the prepared crust, smoothing the top evenly. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling has just set. If the crust begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil. Let cool completely before serving.

I am giving away one signed copy of Rochelle’s incredible book, The Call of the Farm, for Thanksgiving! Leave a comment below & I will announce the lucky winner on my next post.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. The gorgeous brown linen napkin in the second photo was a gift from the lovely 31 Chapel Lane, Dublin, I would encourage a visit!

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