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.


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.


The opposite of me, I think to myself.

I can’t stop reading.

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.


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?!


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
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,


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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56 Responses to “Butternut & Browned Butter Pie”

  1. As I read your blog it attracts me especially your fresh delicious and nutritious healthy recipe for diet butter cake. This Butter Cake is really good. Me and my friends for sure are very excited to try this recipe too. Perfect for a cold season, this is what I need to warmth up. Thanks for this very good blog, GREAT.

  2. […] read about these turkeys on her blog, I knew she loved them, that they had a good life and that they were definitely the size she said […]

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I’m glad that people like you raise good, clean ethically treated animals for food. Can’t wait to read Rochelle’s book. And the pie is stunning.

  4. This pie looks amazing. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful post.

  5. Can’t wait to try the recipe Imen, the leaf cut pastry is such a great idea. x

  6. Veronica says:

    Dear Imen,

    Though I haven’t made quite the change you have (D.C. to Ohio is no transatlantic journey), my move has brought me much closer to farm animals and made the distinction between the cats I love and the chickens I eat less clear. I was a vegetarian for 7 years until a particularly succulent stewed lamb spelled my fall from grace; it’s still hard for me to logically and emotionally reconcile the differences that allow me to eat the lamb and spare the cat. I am glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed your turkey-rearing. Someday, I’ll have to join some of my neighbors in their chicken-processing so that I can graduate from breaking down the fryers we purchase from the store to actually taking an animal from life to death, in as humane a manner as possible. Until then, I will certainly be trying this butternut squash pie. Yours looks adorable.

  7. One time, at an age teetering upon young teen-dom, while walking from my school bus to my piano teacher’s home, I found some lovely purple coleus stems and made a plan to root the cuttings at home. I knew I could not take the wet dirty stems into the meticulous home of my piano teacher, Mrs Morini. She was an exquisite woman, an accomplished piano virtuoso and her backyard manicured Japanese Bonsai garden mesmerized me. I safely tucked the hand-grasped Coleus bunch under a bush, assuring them with my heartfelt promise that I would return to retrieve them and save their lives. It was a cold day and Mrs Morini warmed me with hot chocolate and school boy cookies before we launched into Beethoven and Chopin. By the time I left her house to walk home, I’d utterly forgotten about the coleus stems and my promise to retrieve them. It wasn’t until the next morning that I went back to find that they had either blown away or died; I can’t remember which. It didn’t matter because I’d broken my promise and felt horrid. I learned that day to never break a promise (or perhaps to never make a promise you might not keep.) Here’s the thing with your turkeys; they look into your eyes and know the purpose for which they are bred. They know you are kind and together you share an intimate bond with no promises other than sharing. In truth, we all share a connection knowing that eventually we will either part ways or move on to another place in life or perhaps even in death. You are sensing your place in the larger web. It doesn’t make it easier, just known. Imen, you are lovely to write it down in this Ode to your Turkeys. It made me stop to pause and think about the whys and wherefores of it all too.

  8. Alicia says:

    I very much enjoy your posts. As Irish Americans, my family and I do not fully appreciate where our Thanksgiving meal comes from. We live in The Hudson Valley in New York and are surrounded by farms. Yet we ourselves are not farmers. When we first moved here we urged our Irish born friends (who have since returned to their homeland) to move here too. They often mused that if they weren’t planning to return home then the Hudson Valley is a place that they could be reminded of home. We see flocks of wild turkeys everyday. We greet them with our own version of gooble – gooble and wish them well. This evening my youngest daughter shouted out her window to our feathered neighbors, “Hip hip hurray! You guys made it! Now careful crossing the road”. Although we haven’t done a thing to raise this group of Turkeys, we can sympathize with how you feel. I explained to my children when they were very young, some animals are pets and some animals become our food. It’s a difficult concept no matter your age. Good luck!

  9. Jeanne says:

    Oh, oh, pick me!

  10. farmerpam says:

    Well, this topic is certainly something I can relate to. I don’t eat meat, well, very rarely, but when I do it’s not from our beef cows. Crazy, I know. But those cows trust me, look me in the eye, know me. And how about the eyes of a pig? They almost look human, lol! Truth is I’d been a vegetarian for many years before I met my husband, the hobby farmer, the beef man. We slaughter our own beef, I don’t want to be around when the deed is done, but I have helped cut and wrap after the cow has been put down. It’s done quickly, no fear for the animal. Naww, I’d rather milk a jersey cow, make cheese, butter, fresh whip cream…….I think it’s a good thought that everyone who chooses to eat meat should go through the process, at least once.

  11. Annetje says:

    Gorgeous post, as always. Great recipe. As I had some left over, not completely fresh creme fraiche, I used half full fat butter, half creme fraiche. The result was delicious. Would love to win the book!

  12. Lovely post, handsome turkeys, wonderful recipe and I would love to win the gorgeous book and bake the pie 😉

  13. Caroline says:

    Happy belated Thanksgiving!

  14. Karen Brophy says:

    Imen, I enjoy your posts so very much and look forward to receiving them. Am not now nor have ever lived on a farm; however, every year, since 1991, I spend my holidays in Ireland and love to stay at Farm House B&B’s. In fact, there is one in West Cork that I often forward your recipes to and will definitely send this one. She is a wonderful cook and baker. I always look forward to my afternoon cuppa and slice of cake!! I have also made several of pies, etc. and your brown bread but am sure they did not come out as well as yours as you know we can’t get the great butter, cream, milk in the states that you get in Ireland. Keep your stories coming and I keep trying to guess where you are in Ireland. I can relate a little about your dilemma with your turkeys as when my friend (born in Kildare) was a young lad accidentally killed his mother’s pet chicken and how upset she was.

    • imen says:

      Hi Karen, what a lovely comment….thank you for sending my recipes to the farm in West Cork, how sweet! Thank you xx

  15. Susan says:

    I look forward to getting your blogs. Always such a heartfelt story. The pictures and just the way you write about everything makes me long to visit Ireland. Maybe someday… Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  16. Gretchen says:

    For years and years I’ve been the sole cook for our family Thanksgiving – extended family, that is, numbering typically between 32 and 40. A tradition handed down to me from my mother that I’ve, admittedly, at times grumbled about but always been quitely proud of. This year I’ve moved 5 states away from my family, am at quite a loss rattling around a new-to-me historic home (built in 1769), and find myself mourning the loss of that awesome responsibility. While I adore my new life and love, I haven’t quite known what to do with myself and all of my free time leading up to the big day! I can think of nothing nicer than sitting by the fire with a copy of this book, reflecting upon my good fortune, and absorbing life lessons from another woman who has made life-altering, world-rocking changes in her life in the name of love.

    • imen says:

      Hi Gretchen, I could feel the emotion in your comment and I can only imagine how it must feel to have such a different Thanksgiving experience this year.Embracing change is not always easy, but in this case I hope you were able to enjoy the rest and ease of the holiday! Thank you for the note and your name will be in with the draw =) Imen x

  17. Evangeline says:

    What lovely, honest words you’ve written here. It’s one of the reasons why I was afraid to keep animals myself–sadly I no longer have a garden, and even when I did it was no farm, but I considered a goat or some poultry, because I also firmly believe that if you eat meat, you should be willing to kill it, but in the end I was too much of a coward. However, I will say that living in Nepal for so many years has definitely changed the way I view and consume meat. Any animal products have value here, they are not cheap and most families do not them eat daily or in large quantities, and when they do, all parts of the animal are eaten, not just the choice bits. It makes you see things differently. Not sure if your giveaway is international, but if it is, I’d love to enter for it.

    • imen says:

      Wow Evangeline, thanks for your words….the way of Nepal seems more like where I am heading in this household…I want to be able to eat meat, but will definitely never look at it the same again, that’s for sure. Yes, the giveaway is international =))

  18. Katie says:

    Just reading your description made me want to buy that book, and you are giving it away! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  19. Joan says:

    I raised two pigs this year myself. Feed them, played with them, talked to them let them out in the fields and put them back in the barn each and every day…
    And when the day came for them for their final ride, I fixed them a feast and loaded them into the trailer myself, drove down the rode a bit and unloded them at the butcher. And wispered Thank-you to them.
    Tomorrow we will load the bacon into the smoker, I will render the lard and try my hand at making liverwurt. And wisper thank-you to my pigs once again.

    • imen says:

      Love this Joan, thank you for your words..I am getting closer and closer to coming to peace with the inevitable here and every story helps, thanks again. Name in the draw =)

  20. Clare Buswell says:

    This recipe sounds delicious, I love the use of maple syrup instead of sugar. Loving the leaf detail on the pie too. Will give it a go!

    • imen says:

      Maple syrup is just perfect in this recipe, Rochelle is genius! Hope you give it the recipe a go, it’s a winner!

  21. Roisin says:

    Imen you truly are a talented writer. This article made me reflect on how I need to have more regard for meat when I consume it. And it also made me get up and make a nice hot cuppa tea 😉

    • imen says:

      Awwww thanks Roisin, really appreciate that! And, am delighted that my post has made you want to brew a nice cup of tea too =)

  22. Beautiful post, beautiful writing, imagery and sentiment as always. And this praise has nothing to do with my longing to read that lovely book. But sur’ it can’t hurt right? Always in praise of beauty, Anne

  23. Neasa says:

    I can imagine your dilemma and I don’t think I would be any different. I wish you luck with the decision in a few weeks.

    That pie looks incredible and I particularly love the leaves.

    • imen says:

      Hi Neasa, I am glad you understand my dilemma, sometimes just knowing that I’m not alone helps! The pie is gorgeous, I hope you give it a try sometime. Many thanks for your comment.

  24. Sarah Browne says:

    I grew up on a small farm & the first time we kept turkeys for Christmas I turned vegetarian! Unlike other animals, they were kept in the back garden and just like you we were in intimate, daily contact. After slaughter they were hung in the store that had a deep freeze. I swear that freezer sounded like ‘gobble gobble’ every time I went in there! It was some years later that I began to understand fully the sentiments your young son expresses…and began to enjoy meat again. I think your turkeys are fortunate to be in such good hands.
    This recipe looks great, thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • imen says:

      Hi Sarah, I have been seriously considering turning vegetarian. It’s funny because I never really considered why people become veg’s…guess I always thought it was just more of a fad which is silly. Now, when I think of what animals endure so that we can eat them, it breaks my heart. We will see how this goes for the holidays……might only be veg on the table this year!!! Thanks for your comment. xox

  25. Claire Fox says:

    I have been reading your blog for a while – I’ve always found your words and pictures really lovely – it soothes and eases my weary brain on a cold November morning, as i sit at my desk in work with a steaming cup of coffee.
    With regard the Turkeys, my dear departed Grandmother Sarah, raised Turkeys every year until she passed 10 years ago at 74 yrs old – it was “pin money” for Christmas. She loved and cared for them like pets, but when the time came, she accepted their fate, knowing that unlike alot of animals raised for slaughter, she had given them a happy life. She was wise and lovely, and I miss those sweet every day moments with her.
    Also, that pie looks amazing, and will be definitely baked this weekend.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and Thank You for Sharing your stories.

    • imen says:

      Thank you Claire! This makes me think of my husband’s grandmother who I was able to meet a few years before she passed away….she talked about raising and harvesting their turkeys just the way your grandmother did, it helps a bit…..still, I wish I was more like her and also wish she was here to walk me through this difficult process! Thanks for your comment, I have put your name in for the draw too.

  26. Sile Nic Chonaonaigh says:

    Oh Imen, what a beautiful piece. And what a very human response. As a logical progression of my ‘journey’ on the show I did for several years, I killed a chicken for a farmer who was bringing it to the family plate. It was awful and also incredible; it’s impossible to prepare for and equally difficult to forget. And that’s a good thing. Aware as I was of animal welfare etc the act of ending one chicken’s life changed me. I love meat but I’m very fussy now about where it’s come from and how it’s been treated.
    Enough chicken chat! I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving, and that includes those turkey babies 🙂
    Síle xxx

    • imen says:

      Hi Sile! How are you??? I am taking away this “it’s impossible to prepare for” maybe that’s just the answer for me in a nutshell. The more I dwell on the emotion and the upcoming act I feel worse, perhaps I need to step away and realise that there is no way to prepare so it’s not worth trying to anymore. Thank you for the clarity! Thank you for sharing and ! Hope you have a lovely holiday season. Imen xx

  27. Hedy Savcenko says:

    Oh Imen, wonderful writing !… I am moved on two accounts. Firstly, I am going to make this Pumpkin Pie, as I have never even tried one before. This sounds like the one to begin and end with 🙂 I hope you and your family have a happy time giving thanks for all those things we so luckily have in our lives.
    Also on the subject of critter/bird killing; I found your attitude delightfully frank, and felt your pain. I have no solution, for I am one of the hypocrites who are first to tuck into a feast of such delicacies, but only when it is prepared by someone else!

    • imen says:

      Hi Hedy, thanks for your comment! Are you going to make pumpkin pie or butternut squash pie? I could maybe send you a tin of pumpkin for you to make the traditional pumpkin pie too ==) Thanks for you candor. Imen xx

  28. Caitriona says:

    I read this as it arrived in my inbox, less than 24 hours before our herd goes to slaughter. The pigs have led a good life. Far more pampered than 99.9% of their kind in Ireland. I completely agree with the small Mam’s sentiment but understand how you feel Imen. The sense of detachment that you need to bolster your resolve will come over time. The first batch 18 months ago was the toughest for me. Now I’m far more matter of fact. Clock it down to another rite of passage in being a farmer.
    Don’t have to relish or enjoy the process, I’m dreading tomorrow if I’m honest but the time has come. Much love & hugs. Xxx

    • imen says:

      Hi Caitriona, how did it go? You always have the best, most sound offerings of advice and wisdom, thank you! xoxo

  29. Dana says:

    What a beautiful pie! I’ll definitely be trying this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Susan Carson says:

    Ooohhh! I just made a homemade pumpkin pie today but will definitely try this one soon. Thanks for such a lovely post.

    • imen says:

      Hi Susan, let me know if you try this pie! I’ve put your name in the draw, thanks for the comment =) xx

  31. Lisa-Marie Haugmoen says:

    I really enjoyed your blogging about someone who has very similar stories to you! We are all country cousins in one way or another! ;.))
    It’s hard to not fall in love with farm animals. That’s why I traded with my brother-in-law so we wouldn’t eat our “friends”! 😀
    The food side of your blog is really wonderful! I’ve enjoyed trying several of your recipes and am going to make this butternut and browned butter pie,as well!
    Thank you Imen! I consider you a country friend via the Internet!
    All the best and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    • imen says:

      Hi Lisa-Marie! I love the thought of us all being country cousins, thank you for your warm, kind comment. xx

  32. I love this post! I’m so glad you gave your turkeys a pardon, they are really beautiful creatures, we used to have them roaming wild in the back yard of our house in New England. As for the pie, I love that you made a kind of gingerbread crust, and the leaves are gorgeous!

    • imen says:

      Hi Sue, Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving…..the crust is a rye crust, love the leaves, feel so festive =) Thanks for your comment, your name will be put in the draw =))

  33. omlet says:

    Looks amazing!

  34. Krista says:

    I cried the first time I had to butcher our animals, but my husband and friends walked and talked me through the entire process, explaining each step, right down to how butchering in the right way is absolutely humane, that they literally only feel pain for 1 second. We always love on the beastie before we dispatch him, thank him for his sacrifice, and make sure his passing is as pain-free and peaceful as possible. It’s still difficult for me sometimes, but knowing they have to die at some point either through getting eaten by a wild animal or dying slowly of an illness, makes me feel better about giving them a happy life and a dignified death. XOXO

  35. Ileana says:

    Such a lovely post and pie! Happy Thanksgiving.

    • anna says:

      I have been following you for a while but
      Greetings from Australia. Your turkeys look beautiful and,.. well ready. Its just part of the circle of life, and the fact that you are thoughtful about the issue of killing and then eating them is good. We respect that these creatures are for our sustanance and we prepare them with care and concern for their wellbeing. They have a good life and die well and for a good purpose. The pie looks beautiful, and I will make it this autumn when my pumpkins come in. Thank you for a beautiful blog and I send best wishes for Christmas

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