WHETHER YOU OPT FOR A TRADITIONAL turkey or a more exotic main course for Thanksgiving this year, the Hudson Valley is home to dozens of poultry farms offering a variety of avian alternatives, including ducks, geese, guinea fowl, quail and pheasants. If an avian main course is on your menu, you won’t have to travel far to find the perfect bird.
Although it is unclear exactly what type of fowl was served at the first Thanksgiving in 1621 (if indeed they had fowl at all), the most convincing theory cites a letter written by pilgrim Edward Winslow, in which he mentions a turkey-hunting trip prior to the Thanksgiving feast.
The cost of last year’s Thanksgiving dinner set a record high (spurred by the cost of the turkey), and the USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates predicts slightly higher prices this year, as well. In the Hudson Valley, locally sourced turkeys may be more expensive, but finding all-natural, hormone-, antibiotic- or additive-free birds is relatively easy. Local turkeys typically range from about $5 to $6 per pound. Many vendors feature heritage breeds (white Holland and bronze), but expect to pay a premium; most orders must be placed by mid- to late October.
Where to find turkeys: Heather Ridge Farm (Preston Hollow), Glynwood Farm (Cold Spring), Hahn Farm (Salt Point), Hemlock Hill Farm (Cortlandt Manor), Northwind Farms (Tivoli), Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish (North Salem), Quattro’s Poultry Farm (Pleasant Valley), Stone & Thistle Farm (East Meredith), Turkana Farms (Germantown), McEnroe Farm (Millerton).
One of the more common epicurean waterfowl, duck meat is darker, richer and ismore moist than chicken or turkey. As Hank Shaw says in his book Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $24.99 hardcover), “perfectly cooked duck breast has the meatiness of a steak with an additional cloak of fatty, crispy skin.”
The Hudson Valley is home to hundreds of ponds, lakes and reservoirs, let alone the mighty Hudson, which brings a natural influx of wild waterfowl. If you’re less hunter and more domestic gatherer, a number of local Hudson Valley farms offer whole ducks that can be baked, roasted, braised or fried for dinner.
Where to find ducks: Heather Ridge Farm (Preston Hollow), Hemlock Hill Farm (Cortlandt Manor), John Fazio Farms (Modena), Northwind Farms (Tivoli), Stone & Thistle Farm (East Meredith), Turkana Farms (Germantown), Hudson Valley Duck Farm (Ferndale), La Belle Farm (Ferndale).
Geese are more closely associated with Christmas dinner, but they’re a fine alternative to a Thanksgiving turkey. When purchasing geese, keep in mind that young and mature geese are vastly different in texture and flavor. Young geese are less than six months old and weigh up to 10 pounds, while mature geese are older than six months and can weigh up to 16 pounds.
Hudson Valley poultry farms typically carry geese, though they may not be large enough for wholesale by Thanksgiving, according to Brian Pitcher, head butcher at Quattro’s Poultry Farm & Market. “For Thanksgiving, we get some orders for geese,”he says. “We have to say no because they’re not quite ready yet.” Still, if you’re looking for a younger goose with richer flavor, Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to order. In the Hudson Valley, geese typically range in price from $7 to $10 per pound.
Where to find geese: Hemlock Hill Farm (Cortlandt Manor), Northwind Farms (Tivoli), Quattro’s Poultry Farm & Market (Pleasant Valley), Turkana Farms (Germantown).
Guinea fowl are a primordial species. “They’re like little velociraptors,” says Stone & Thistle Farm owner Tom Warren. While chickens take about 9 weeks to mature, guinea fowl take 14 to 16 weeks. While they’re difficult to farm, guinea fowl offer a flavor similar to chicken or pheasant with turkey overtones.
When it comes to preparation, Guinea fowl can be treated like a small chicken or turkey—baked, broiled, braised or roasted. Expect to pay from $8 per pound to $15 per bird, depending on the source.
Where to find guinea fowl: Heather Ridge Farm (Preston Hollow), Mauer’s Mountain Farms (Bloomville), Northwind Farms (Tivoli), Stone & Thistle Farm (East Meredith), Turkana Farms (Germantown).
Famous for its small, flavorful eggs, quail often is overlooked as a meat bird. Typically only 3 to 4 ounces each (expect to serve two per person), their small size belies their intense flavor. Quails cost about $5 per bird in the Hudson Valley.
Pheasants, like quails, are a fraction of the size of a turkey or chicken. “Pheasant’s like a fancy chicken,” Pitcher says. “A little drier, a little stronger in flavor.”They typically range from 4 to 5 pounds, and cost about $8 to $10 per pound regionally.
Where to find quail: Northwind Farms (Tivoli), Pugh Farms Poultry (Wallkill). Where to find pheasant: Quattro’s Poultry Farm (Pleasant Valley).