Christmas is just around the corner, folks. And of course, depending on your point of view, this sort of statement will either fill you with joy; or leave you grimacing at the screen. Because OK, there are still 48 days to go and perhaps for some people, it is still a little too early to start considering tinsel, mince pies and ding dong merrily on high.
If you are an eager beaver though, well, you will be pleased to know that the Turner & George Christmas shop is now open. Yes, you can now pre-order your turkey, goose or Christmas trimmed rib of beef, along with a range of the usual meaty accompaniments. Not forgetting Polly's Handmade Pork Stuffing. And do keep an eye out on the blog in the run up to the big day. As we are going to be into greater detail with regards to this mighty, yet humble Christmas side. It's an important dish to get right, dammit! Along with the gravy, roasties and sulfurous Brussels sprouts.
Coming back to the planning side of things, if you do get your main joint ordered sooner rather than later, then at least you can sit back, take things slow and just relax a touch. Safe in the knowledge that one of the most important elements of Christmas is all taken care off. After all, who needs the stress of running around and desperately, sadly, settling for a barely de-frosted butterball on December 25th?
Which segues rather neatly with the breed of turkeys that we offer. For the birds we sell are supplied by Herb Fed, who have rather a special way of doing things. Where the onus is on time, care and nurturing turkeys on a unique diet of herbs, out in open fields. And behind Herb Fed, there is a great story to tell too.
I visited the farm up near Thirsk, in beautiful North Yorkshire, way back in July with Jess and we were collected from the station by founder of Herb Fed, Edward Wilkinson, on a bright sunny day. After a series of firm handshakes and bundling into his dusty, straw-laden jeep, the very first question I had for him was this - ‘What made you go out and buy 500 Bronze turkeys then, way back in 2009?’
(I had done a little bit of research and knew that in a previous life, Edward had worked as a chartered surveyor in London)
‘Bloody hell,’ was his answer, delivered with a familiar Yorkshire brogue. ‘I don’t know really. I think it might have been after one too many pints!’ An eyebrow raising response but after a few more minutes in his company, it soon became clear that he was pulling our legs. Or at least working upon a half-truth.
‘Actually, it was all down to circumstance and the inkling of an idea. After the credit crunch in 2008, I came back home and was scratching around for a bit. My family background is in farming and it just felt right to return. I then got this offer of buying all these turkeys, so I rented some land, bought some second-hand sheds and decided to feed them on waste herbs from my aunts’ business.’
‘Why herbs?’ I asked.
‘Well, my aunt runs her own herb farm, called Herbs Unlimited. She also keeps chickens, which she feeds on waste, trimmings or herbs that have simply gone past their best and would otherwise end up on a compost heap. And they produce these fantastic tasting eggs. It got me thinking. If that sort of diet could affect the flavour of eggs, what would it do for the meat?’
The diet was trialed with the turkeys and the reaction was extremely positive, taking Edward somewhat by surprise.
‘I had some sleepless nights at the start but once the orders started coming through, I knew I was onto something and Herb Fed was born. Of course, sleepless nights are now par for the course. Especially now that we’ve got our new chicks in.’
Which was the whole purpose of our trip, to check on this year’s batch of turkeys that were being reared for Christmas, as a large proportion of which, will be coming to Turner & George. After a glorious drive, we arrived and were met by Edward's wife, Emma, who takes care of marketing, along with numerous other jobs on the farm.
'Welcome to Herb Fed!' she beamed, before ushering us into a portakabin for a cup of tea and a biscuit. The format for the day was to be fairly informal and relaxed and just an excuse for us to have a nose around the farm really, which we did by hopping back into the jeep and going to visit the new turkeys.
Walking into a shed holding a small batch of week old chicks (or poults, as they are known) was slightly unnerving actually. With the lights dimmed and heat lamps on full blast, it was hard to see but you soon became aware of an inquisitive scurrying about the place. After carefully putting a foot down, it quickly got inspected and before I knew it, my laces were being nibbled at. Poults are not shy and at first, it was hard to differentiate them from regular chicks. But Edward assured us that changes would be soon afoot, where chirps would transform into that recognizable 'gobble gobble'.
'These will be kept in here for 4 weeks, with the heat gradually turned down before being let out into the open. Once that happens, we start to feed them on that diet of herbs - parsley, coriander, chives, thyme, dill - you name it. Come November, they will be getting through a tonne a week. Except sage. They don't like that much. I don't know why.'
Obviously, because we were there at the start of the season, there wasn't a chance to see them in the open but Emma and Edward did show us their chickens, who live in a similar wide open field, about 20 acres in all.
This was probably the most impressive part - seeing the conditions in which the poultry at Herb Fed live. With a woodland to the left of the enclosure and swathes of wild flowers popping up everywhere, it was idyllic; the scene only punctuated by small huts, where the birds roost overnight or hide to keep cool (or to keep warm). In fact, it took some encouragement on the blisteringly hot day we visited. Their signature white Ross chickens much preferred to keep in the shade but according to Emma, the turkeys, once allocated to their field will roam about the place come rain or shine. Making a hell of a noise.
'When they are fully grown, they can create a racket. Although we do get some respite when we lay some extra cereal down from the local mill, to supplement their diet. All additive free of course.'
The shame is that we were meant to return, to see the Herb Fed Bronze turkeys in all their glory; pecking around, all happy and healthy. But like we've already said, Christmas is around the corner and very soon, preparations for slaughter will be made at their on-site facility. Which in turn helps to elevate stress. The Herb Fed birds will then be dry plucked and waxed and then hung for a minimum of 10 days, to tenderise and develop an extra degree of game-like flavour.
Another stretch added then. To deliver a turkey that is just that extra bit special for your Christmas dinner table. Given that some commercially grown turkeys can hit the shelves after 12 weeks and are often devoid of any taste, texture or moisture for that matter; here at Turner & George, we can't emphasis enough the importance of time and taking things slowly when it comes to rearing meat.
Deliveries begin from November 22nd. So OK, there is still no need to rush (even if you are one of those eager beavers).
Just don't leave things till Christmas Eve.