Feast Fit for a King 

A few years ago, my roommates and I came into a bit of money close to Thanksgiving. We decided to spend it on something previously inconceivable given our finances-a holiday feast fit for a table full of linebackers.

The centerpiece of the meal was an organic Hutterite turkey, bought at the last minute. Before the bird even hit the oven, we admired the perfect pinkness of the flesh, and took pride in the fact that we wouldn't be eating a steroid-enhanced creature from the supermarket. Feeling content at the eco-soundness of it all, we left the turkey on the counter to defrost, knowing full well our cat Spider always haughtily refused to eat the scraps of sliced deli turkey we'd toss to her.

We woke up the next morning focused on cooking. It took a moment to notice the hole in the plastic covering the turkey, carved out by feline claws and teeth in a desperate bid to get to the succulent meat. "Wow," I thought. "That must be some good turkey!"

The 100 members of the New Rockport Hutterite Colony raise their turkeys and their turkey feed from scratch, delivering 1,500 free range birds across Western Montana each November.
Courtesy: Good Food Store

Indeed it was.

John Wipf, a member of the New Rockport Hutterite Colony outside Choteau, says that his birds taste better because they are free range. As opposed to most grocery bought fowl, that means they aren't confined to cages. "Starting when they're three weeks old, they go out anytime they want. They're not restricted in any way," says Wipf.

The Rockport Colony has been raising and selling the turkeys to the Good Food Store for about the past 15 years. Randi Erickson, the education coordinator for the Good Food Store, says the freedom to wander alone separates New Rockport's poultry from birds raised in many large commercial operations. When turkeys are allowed to strut around the yard as they are at the Rockport Colony, Erickson believes the exercise makes them stronger and healthier. "They're just better quality birds," she says.

The 100 members of the colony produce virtually everything they and their livestock consume themselves, resulting in nearly total self-sufficiency. They raise animals and vegetables to eat throughout the year, build their own houses and manufacture most of their simple farming equipment on site.

Wipf describes the typical day as starting with breakfast, which everybody attends, at 6:30 a.m. Chores begin at 7:00, with the exception of the person in charge of milking the cows, who must begin at 3:30 a.m.

The fruits of such labor include the 1,500 turkeys the colony sells each November. Wipf says the Good Food Store buys about 80 percent of them. Rosauer's in Missoula and the Third Street Market in Whitefish purchase the bulk of the remainder. In addition to turkeys, the colony sells free range geese in December and chickens all year long.

Erickson notes another significant difference between Hutterite turkeys and their mainstream counterparts is the way they're killed. "They're not slaughtered by machine. They're slaughtered by hand and plucked by hand. It cuts down on bruises. Bruised meat has a definite flavor," Erickson says.

Erickson visited New Rockport last summer, and says she was impressed by the cleanliness of New Rockport, which she describes as a point of pride for the colony. Wipf adds that antibiotics are never used on the New Rockport turkeys, nor are hormones or growth stimulants. "We don't pump 'em full of stuff," he says. He also points out the turkeys are fed with barley and wheat grown and milled by the colony.

Bruce Friedrich, the vegetarian campaign coordinator for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, a rabid animal rights group based in Washington, D.C., describes the "industrial" turkey's experience in dramatic terms.

"They're packed into windowless sheds by the tens of thousands," he says emphatically. "Their beaks are seared off and they're mutilated without anesthesia.

"At the end of their life, they're crammed in the back of transport trucks. Then they're hung upside down and their throats are slit. Life for the vast majority of these animals is a living nightmare," says Friedrich.

Of course, there are those who don't see much difference between factory farmed birds and free range fowl. Bill Caplis, meat department manager at Rosauer's, is one of them. He says free range turkeys are a nice idea, but impractical as a matter of policy given the amount of poultry Americans consume each year.

"It's supply and demand," Caplis says. "Imagine how hard it would be for a big facility to maintain a bunch of turkeys running around. They need to supply Americans' appetite for turkey all year round. There's a huge market for it."

Caplis also dismisses the idea that there is any significant danger in consuming chemically altered turkeys. "Before this natural thing got as big as it's gotten, I don't think anyone was dying off. As long as you cook the bird right, you're OK."

Caplis also recommends cooking holiday turkeys in a bag, available at most grocery stores.

That was the method my roommates and I used that glorious Thanksgiving, and I must say I've never eaten a juicier bird. There is something pleasing about the idea of eating a less domesticated bird, although I'm not sure if the Hutterite turkey's lack of hormones or better exercised body was the reason it tasted so good.

Regardless, the normal urge to pass out after dinner was absent. Instead, we all felt satisfied in the glow that persisted long after the last football game ended-as for Spider, it turns out she likes turkey after all.

Pumpkin pie from a can?

Fugghetaboutit already


It's the sound of soft pureed pumpkin landing-"Slurp!"-in the middle of the bowl, holding the exact shape of the tin can, that makes me cringe.

That orange-brown heap of pumpkin, looking as if it has been confined for several years, is such an obvious imposter next to the shiny, round pumpkin on the label of the can. And it's a travesty that this fraud, this fake, would ride on the coattails of one of the year's most important meals-the Thanksgiving feast.

No one would dare to even think about using instant mashed potatoes for the biggest meal of the year. We certainly don't mind the lumps or bits of potato skin in this mashed goodness during the holidays.

Isn't it precisely those imperfections that we love about homemade meals? They taste better, in part, because in real life nothing looks like the cover of the Martha Stewart cookbook. Except for these damn artificial pumpkin pies. They look as if they just popped right off the cover of Stewart's Living magazine.

Usually, they taste that way too. So why doesn't anybody take the time to do it up right, with the real stuff?

Adding insult to injury, everyone has the time, just one month before Thanksgiving, to slaughter the vivacious orange squash. On Halloween, no one has any qualms about cutting, carving and painting these pumpkins. Then they are put outside for all the world to laugh at while their insides are slowly burned by the heat of a candle.

If that weren't enough, Halloween pumpkins also must live in fear of being smashed by neighborhood delinquents. It's a slap in the face that real pumpkins can be used for a holiday of horrors but not for a holiday of thanks. All the thanks they get is to be substituted with an industrial imitation.

For all the pumpkins out there waiting to take their place at the Thanksgiving dinner table, have a heart, pick up a pumpkin at your nearest grocery store. These would-be Jack-o'-Lanterns won't let you down.

To bake a pumpkin: Snap off the stem and then cut it in half or into several wedges. Scoop out the seeds and stringy meat and place both halves, insides up, on a baking sheet or pan. Bake, uncovered, for one hour at 325 degrees and for two or more hours at 300 degrees.

When the meat is tender, remove the pumpkin from the oven and let it cool. Scrape the meat out of the pumpkin and either puree it in a blender or mash it. Then just add it to the following recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook, or your own favorite:

-3 eggs -1/3 cup granulated sugar -1/3 cup brown sugar -2 cups pumpkin -1 teaspoon ground ginger -1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon -1/2 teaspoon ground cloves -1/2 teaspoon ground allspice -1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom -pinch of salt -3/4 cup heavy cream -3/4 cup half-and-half

• Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Beat eggs and both sugars together until light. Stir in pumpkin, spice and salt and mix thoroughly. Stir in cream and half-and-half. Put your crust in the pie pan and pour the pumpkin filling onto it. Bake the pie at 450 degrees for eight minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool completely before cutting.

Wine, no whining

A guide to holiday beverage buying


Wine angst-it's an anxiety that nearly everyone experiences from time to time, but few like to talk about. As the holiday season commences, you know this queasy feeling is bound to strike you at least once.

You will be invited to your fair share of shindigs and dinners with friends and family, and somewhere along the way you will be asked to bring along the wine. Or, perhaps, in a moment of weakness you'll volunteer thinking it's better than cooking.

That's truly when a whole complex set of anxieties kicks into high gear. Maybe all wine tastes the same to you, or you know that you want to bring good wine, but you don't want blow all your Christmas cash either. You know enough to go by a couple basic rules-such as bringing wine that comes in a box or a large jug or that is pink is not such a hot idea, although you may not be exactly sure why. But you might also worry that if you do bring too good a wine (not likely) you will look like a snob.

So, imagine yourself standing in the wine aisle trying not cower before a multitude of labels. These superficial markings are like the cover of that proverbial book. They tell you nothing about whether this would be a good choice. Without some coaching, in the end, you will more likely than not make some thin, defensive comment to your host about how you hope the wine is alright.

Rest assured, relief for at least a little bit of your holiday stress is at hand. You can get on the right track with the whole wine issue right now.

Martin Richard says chosing wines for the holidays should be fun.
Photo by Dan Engler

This pencil-pushing notebook-toter read up on several wine publications for basic knowledge, scoured the Internet for more information, talked to the wine gurus at Worden's Market and Deli (and then got my girlfriend drunk a couple of times) experimenting with the all recommendations he came across to help you make a more informed decision.

With new wines entering the U.S. market from Chile, Australia and New Zealand in recent years-not mention a growing market for Oregon and Washington wines-it's easy to get overwhelmed by the process of selecting a good vino pretty quickly. Still, the popularity of wine has kept pace with the growing variety on the market.

To Martin Richard (pronounced ree-chard), who is Worden's Market's main wine guy, one of the things that makes drinking wine so special is that it appeals to four of your five senses: sight, smell, taste and touch. Each sense gives its own separate set of clues into the wine's character, says Richard, who even teaches a class meant to give students a "vocabulary of wine" and "confidence in their ability to taste and describe wine."

"The problem is too many people worship labels and don't use [wine] as it should be used," says Richard. "The main thing is to play in the game. People are much better at this than they know."

Buying and drinking wine isn't something one has to be a snob about, Richard notes. Sometimes the best wines are cheap and unknown. Nor is picking the right vino something that should intimidate people. One thing that wine experts seem to agree on is that drinking wine is an endless experiment that people should have fun with.

That said, Richard and his partner in wine, Chris Niswanger, suggest the wines listed below as good choices for this holiday season. Although both men are reluctant to hand out suggestions until they know exactly what's being served, Richard does say that for large meals such as the Thanksgiving feast you should try two different wines to experiment.

Three whites

• Babcock Pinot Gris. "This is a great wine that's becoming more and more popular," Niswanger says. "It's dry and crisp with a medium acidity level. The thing that's great about this wine is the strong taste of fruit."

• Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Viognier. Niswanger suggests this an alternative to chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. "It has some very interesting and unique flavors," he says.

• Cuvee Savage Chardonnay. According to Niswanger, this wine would make a great gift. "It reminds a lot of people of white Burgundy that would cost two to three times as much."

Four reds

• Marietta Old Vine Red. This is a good solid "everyday" kind of wine that's perfect for that all-American holiday, and is one of Worden's leading sellers year after year. "Open it on the first day and drink a third, and it will be good. Drink another the third the next day and it's even better. Drink the last third on the third day and it's at its best," Niswanger says.

• Cline Mourvedre Ancient Vines. "This wine is a new group of varietal that California has just started to pick up on. It's a new taste sensation that people are really enjoying," says Niswanger.

• Gallo of Sonoma Zinfandel Frei Ranch Vineyards. This is another great all-American holiday wine. Although customers tend to have a resistance to this wine because of the Gallo name, Niswanger compares it to other zinfandels that are twice as expensive.

• Treana This is another great gift selection, according to Niswanger. It's a wine he thinks will catch on in the eyes of collectors in another year or two causing it to double, and maybe even triple, in price. For those who don't care about collecting wine, it also comes in a cool looking bottle.

Alfredo Cipolato reveals the pleasure of chowing


To enter the Broadway Market, an unassuming shop on the corner of Broadway and Madison streets, is to open a vault of smell, a pocket of rich, deep and complex aroma.

The shelves, standing floor to ceiling along the shop's narrow length, teem with colorful and wonderful delicacies-olives, oils, wines, cheeses and meats-mostly the foods of owner Alfredo Cipolato's native Italy.

The air overflows with their savor.

Alfredo Cipolato-once interned at Fort Missoula because of his Italian heritage-has been introducing the Garden City to Venetian treats for 40 years.
Photo by Dan Engler

In an age when super-groceries measure their quality in scrubbed fluorescent acreage, it comes as something of a shock, the smell. Tiny, step-by-step transformations-from wheaty pasta to thick, salty sausage-serve as an invisible map to the market's stock. Its odorous depth becomes as essential and real as the little room's sturdy, tread-worn floor.

Cipolato himself, a transplanted Venetian, has the grocery business in his blood in a way equally alien to the corporate realities of late-century food selling. His family ran a groceria in Venice for 150 years, while the Broadway Market has summoned the tastes of Italy to Missoula for more than four decades.

Raise the topic of food-particularly, food used for holiday celebrations back home-with Cipolato, and the former World War II internee lets loose. "In Italy we don't have this 'Thanksgiving,'" he says. "In Italy, everyday is Thanksgiving! We celebrate every day of the year just like you do on Thanksgiving here."

Which isn't to say that the rites of mid-winter don't call forth special efforts by cooks all over the boot-shaped peninsula where the shopkeeper hails from. In the '40s, this heritage led to Cipolato spending some months under guard at Fort Missoula's internment camp.

"Holiday food, over there, it's a special feast," Cipolato says. "In Venice they have capitane, which is an eel, a sort of big long thing. In Venice when I go home over there, I look all the time for capitane. Sometimes I can get smoked eel around here, but it's very hard to get fresh fish.

"Even over there for Christmas you have a turkey, usually roasted. It all depends on where you were born. If you were born in Venice, you do one thing. If you're born somewhere else, you do something else."

For his customers, those reared in Montana's mountains rather than along the canals of Cipolato's home town, a platter of antipasto comes recommended as an introduction to the variety and simple pleasures of chowing, Italian style.

Cipolato explains: "Antipasto means 'before pasta.' 'Anti' means before, see. And Italian antipasto is any kind of cold cut, any kind of Italian meats. You can do soprasotto, pepperoni, any Italian cold cut. There are so many ways you can do it. You can have any kind of fish you want-sardines, anchovies.

"When I make antipasto, I put all kinds of fish on the table. Sardines, anchovies, frog legs... what else do I have here? Squid, tuna. I make a platter, a dish. Here, look-" he takes down a jar of mixed treats marketed by Polli, with tuna chunks and sardines mixed in with pickled vegetables- "it's like this. And this is very good, by the way.... The thing about antipasto is you're not supposed to eat too much, 'cause then you won't eat the meal."

Ruminating on the makings of such an appetizer platter leads Cipolato to relate a more festive and delicate ways to mark the season. Plunging his hand into a trough of chestnuts by his cash register, he tells how he likes to combat winter's chill.

"You take three, four, five roast chestnuts and a good-sized glass of wine," he says. "I'm talking good wine. You warm the wine with the chestnuts. Then, when you drink the wine, oh, it goes up inside you and it warms you up and then the chestnuts, when you eat them, they have the flavor of wine."

As with everything else, Italians filter the array of sweets associated with the season through their own unique sensibility. As winter dawns, the Broadway Market stocks up on bright, succulent-looking packages of pandoro-sweet bread-Toblerone and pannetone fruit cake.

The unquestioned king of the holiday dessert spread is a monster Cipolato invites into his store every November. From before Thanksgiving until just after Christmas, a massive 30-pound pannetone shipped in from Italy lurks near the door. It's a huge, imposing thing, which Cipolato says comes as a dear-between $400 and $500-celebration of the season.

The enormous cake is packed with a machete-like knife, a long, broad stainless steel blade sheathed and at the ready next to the big pannetone. Cipolato brandishes this weapon, taking obvious pleasure in this bizarre holiday icon. "You have to let this sit 36 hours before you put it in the oven," Cipolato notes. "They don't make this in America."

If it weren't for the fact that it's nestled at the intersection of five valleys in the Northern Rockies, you could almost say the same of the Broadway Market-and if you think the sights and smells sound appetizing, just wait until you get a mouthful.

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