CARL AND THERESA Redman's Thanksgiving turkey has an eye like a hawk. His thin, muscular neck changes from powder-pink to fire-engine red as he gets excited. The iridescent purples, blues and greens of his tail feathers reflect the sunlight as he struts around his barnyard domain.
They've had him since early last April, when he poked his way out of an egg in their wooden incubator in one of several back-yard sheds. They haven't named him, though. "When we name them, something happens to them," Theresa Redman says of their farm animals.
But it's not just turkeys that keep the Redmans busy at their Chestertown, Md., grain farm. They also raise beef cattle and ducks; age cured hams and grow most of their vegetables in the back yard. Living off the land, in this case, seven miles from the Chesapeake Bay, is in their blood; both were raised on nearby farms. Meat and poultry from the grocery store no longer taste "right" to them, she says.
"We've gotten so we really like what we raise and eat. If I had to go to the store and buy steak now, none of us would think it was any good," Theresa Redman says. "I'd put it on the table and they'd say, 'This tastes different, Mom.' " The difference is in the feed. The farm animals "get only what they need," she says. They grow slowly and that makes the meat tender.
The Redmans also know a lot more about raising birds than they did four years ago when they first began, as a hobby, to raise mallards and quail. They've now added chukar partridges, pheasants, guinea fowls, wild turkeys and white (domestic) turkeys to their bird world.
The clucking and gobbling begins at sunrise when the ducks and other turkeys hear Carl Redman open the back door. As he crosses the mile-long dirt road that comes to an end just behind the house, the birds fly down from the rafters where they perch for the night. Once they're watered and fed, Redman hauls bales of hay across the barnyard to feed the 19 cattle grazing near a second barn. By noon he is off to one of the seven grain farms that he manages together with his cousin. His wife takes over caring for the birds until their three children return from school.
Between watering birds, chauffeuring children and working two days a week at the local kitchenware store, Theresa Redman cooks the family meals. She might select a cured ham from the back-yard curing shed or a fresh turkey from the barn. While it bakes she'll make the crust for a pecan pie or crank homemade ice cream.
She says there isn't much on their Thanksgiving table that wasn't grown or raised in the back yard. Not including, of course, the flour for the pie crusts and the paper towels with which to pat the turkey dry. "If I could only figure a way to grow paper products," she jokes about her weekly grocery bill. "You know, even though you put up the tomatoes, you still have to buy spaghetti in order to use your spaghetti sauce," she says.
Each year as August draws to a close, Redman and his two sons work into the early evening harvesting the corn that grows on all four sides of the farmhouse. His wife, in the meantime, has turned the kitchen into a minor food processing plant as she prepares the family's vegetable larder that will carry them through the winter. There are tomatoes to can; sweet corn, lima beans, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries and blueberries to freeze. When not busy canning and freezing, she dreams up new ways to use the peaches given to her by a neighboring farmer--pies, tarts, cobblers . . . Peach desserts, she says, are her downfall, constantly tempting her to stray from a nine-month diet during which she lost 25 pounds and her husband 20.
"It's a great bartering system around here," she says of life in the country. "You know, it's like back in the olden days when the doctor would say, 'I'll take care of your family if you bring me a chicken for payment.' " One neighbor brings them sweet corn to freeze and gets a turkey in return.
"I'm just a plain-Jane farm girl and we eat just like plain Janes," Theresa Redman says of her cooking while riding in a truck to one of four duck blinds adjacent to the nine-acre pond. "If you just use a little butter, salt and pepper it's amazing what you can come up with." Turkey, their main staple, is cooked sometimes twice a month. "Why go to the store and buy chickens when you've got turkey?" she asks.
She looks into the pit as her husband lifts the hinged, leaf-strewn lid of the duck blind. "This is where the men come on the coldest day of the year and sit in a hole in the ground and shoot ducks. I've never figured it out," she says. But then she also refuses to clean the birds. "I like them when their feathers are off and they're ready for the pan."
"Thanksgiving," she continues, "is the first wonderful feast," one of her favorite holidays. "The house smells so good . . . the harvest is finished . . . everything is relaxed."
"I would never trade country life," Theresa Redman says, her smile broadening as she surveys her farmhouse and the surrounding 208 acres. "It's just a more tranquil life out here. If there's a big snowstorm and everybody's home, I'm really content. I make soup and bread and enjoy every minute of it."
WILD TURKEY 10- to 12-pound turkey 1/2 lemon 6 to 8 cups stuffing Butter, salt and freshly ground pepper Gravy: 4 tablespoons fat (left in roasting pan) 3 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/4 cup sherry or cognac (optional) 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
Wash the turkey well and rub inside with a lemon. Dry exterior and stuff neck and body cavities with your favorite stuffing. Tie shut. Rub turkey with generous amount of soft butter, then season with salt and pepper. Place on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast at 350 degrees, allowing 20 minutes per pound or less (until the bird reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees). Baste with pan juices from time to time. When done transfer to hot platter and allow to rest 10 minutes. Carve and garnish to taste.
To make gravy, leave 4 tablespoons fat in roasting pan and add flour to it. Blend over low heat, scraping to remove all the bits of drippings. Slowly whisk in broth to make smooth sauce. Add seasoning to taste and, if you like, the sherry or cognac and cream. Correct seasoning and serve in a sauceboat.
From "James Beard's American Cookery"
DINNER ROLLS (Makes about 30 rolls) 1 cup milk 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons butter 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 package active dry yeast 2 tablespoons lukewarm water 1 egg 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups flour Melted butter for brushing on top
Scald milk. Add sugar, butter and salt and stir until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over warm water and let proof. When milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add to yeast mixture. Beat in egg. Stir in part of the flour; knead in the rest. Use only enough flour to form a dough that can be handled easily. Place in a greased bowl. Brush the top with melted butter. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down and roll into 2-inch pieces. Place rolls next to one another in rows on an ungreased baking sheet. Let rise a second time until light, about 35 minutes. Brush with melted butter and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Adapted from "The Joy of Cooking"
EASY PECAN PIE (9-inch pie) Crust: 1 cup flour Dash salt 1/3 cup butter 1/4 cup ice water Filling: 3 eggs 1/2 cup sour cream 1/2 cup dark corn syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup sugar Pinch salt 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1 1/4 cups pecan halves
Mix flour, salt and butter together until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water a little at a time just until pastry comes together and forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll out on floured board. Lay in 9-inch pie pan. Flute edges with fingertips.
In a medium bowl beat eggs well. Stir in sour cream, corn syrup, vanilla, sugar, salt and butter and mix well. Stir in pecans. Pour in shell. Bake at 400 degrees until crust is brown and filling is slightly puffy (about 30 to 35 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.