About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Roast Duck Dinner (From Post Office to Plate) - Part 1

A reporter wrote an article about us for Edible Phoenix Magazine a few years ago and included a joke we'd told her when she asked "So, how do you make goat cheese?"
We had told her that we started with 280 acres of land, 25 happy, healthy, free-range Nubian goats contributing their super-high butterfat milk twice a day.  We then proceeded with our standard commercial recipe.  She thought it was a hoot and included an expanded-to-the-ridiculous version in her article. Now it's become a standard response around here when anyone asks about any of our Ranch-raised or grown products.
"Wow, this is a great steak!  What's your secret?"
"Well, first you birth the calf.  Then your raise him free-range on his mother's milk and high-desert browse for 18 to 24 months, then..."
The really funny thing is that it's completely true and similar stories apply to most of the food we eat here. 
An exchange at a recent open house for the dairy...
"So, what do you do with all the goat poop and barn cleanings from around the Ranch?"
"We eat it."
"Excuse me?"
"We eat it.  First we compost it, then we spread it in our garden, then we plant vegetables in it, then, when they're ready, we eat them".
Today I'm going to tell you about a duck dinner I cooked for Kathryn and myself a few weeks ago.  The story of this dinner starts, predictably enough, about 8 months ago when the hatchling Moscovy ducks arrived via US Mail at the post office of a friend in Phoenix.  27 feisty and healthy little ducklings, just a few days old.  Their successful arrival was a relief because the first order from the company (which we'd had shipped directly to us) had all arrived dead.  It turns out that our location is too rural to get guaranteed next-day delivery from the duck breeder's location, but our friend in The Big City got them in less than 24 hours from the time shipping.
Anyway, the second batch of ducklings arrived safe and sound and our friend, who has a goat dairy in Buckeye AZ took them to her farm and got them all settled in.  Our agreement with her was that she would care for them until she brought them up to us when she came for a long- planned visit a few days later in exchange for a duck dinner sometime down the road.  All went well and the ducks made the 4-hour drive with her with no problems and quickly adapted to life in their new brooder/digs.
About a month later TERROR STRUCK the duck colony.  Kathryn walked in and was surprised to see all the little ducklings cowering in a corner.  Looking around she soon saw why... a very large Gopher Snake was in the duck pen about half way through swallowing one of their siblings whole! Kathryn ran back to the dairy, grabbed her snake hook (and the camera!) and promptly removed the 6-foot long predator by wrangling it (and its meal) into a 5-gallon bucket and driving it in our Polaris Ranger about 1/2 a mile away down to the big dry wash that runs through our property.  Catching the snake red-handed in the act also solved the mystery of what had happened to a couple of our baby laying hen chicks that had disappeared into thin air earlier this spring.
The rest of the ducklings' time in their "baby" pen went quickly and smoothly and before long they were being moved into the main chicken coop.  The coop features a 20x20' fully fenced and roofed outdoor run for security from owls etc.  A door to the pen is normally kept open so the birds can come and go as they please but we closed it now so the ducks (now quite good-sized) would have to stay and get used to their new quarters.  This would be their last move until they were allowed to go free-range in another few weeks.
At about 4-months old we began opening the door during the day so the ducks could start exploring the world.  Within a week they had become sufficiently comfortable out-and-about that we opened it up fully and permanently.
With great delight we watched the first clumsy flights of the most adventuresome of the flock and before we knew it they were all flying short distances across the main compound (usually from one feeding area to another), though they seemed more at home walking most of the time.  By this point we could begin to distinguish the males (drakes) from the females (hens).  We had originally wanted ducks primarily for bug control around the dairy but chose the Muscovy breed because of their highly prolific nature.  Even so, it was obvious that we had way more drakes than we (actually the hens) needed to perpetuate or even grow the flock. 
A duck-butchering day was planned.

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