Q & A for Feast Magazine

turkeysfield
My name in James Graham and I farm around 400 acres, over two farms, near Dereham. We are a mixed farm but I am best known for our rare breed turkeys, the Norfolk Black. I am the fourth generation to farm; we started in the 1850s in Lincolnshire as general poultry dealers, and moved to Norfolk in the 1880s. We started near Wymondham and my grandparents, Frank and Gertrude Peele, downsized to Rookery Farm, Thuxton, near Dereham, in 1932 where we are still today.

And what about your business?
In the 1950s, farmers were starting to favour the hybrid white birds but my grandfather, Frank, didn’t rate them. He didn’t like the idea of mass produced birds so continued to use traditional farming methods. Now we have an established breeding programme that doesn’t change so we have one of the last sizeable ocks of Norfolk Blacks. They are free range so roam freely, mate naturally and look like they should, with long legs. Our breeding stock is about 300 birds and each Christmas we sell around 2000, with those at 7/8kg the most popular as they serve about 10 people.

What do you do on Christmas Day – dare we ask if it involves turkey?
Yes, most de nitely. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t sit down to a bird although it is usually whatever we have left ! There is my partner, Claire, her parents and my mother, Pat. We have an Aga and sit down to a fairly traditional meal, with all the trimmings. This year we are having some stuffing made, so I will enjoy that, too.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running the family business?
That’s a hard one as I do love agriculture, so I would stay involved in it in some way. Maybe in education? I enjoy giving talks and tours about what we do here, explaining our traditional methods and why they still work well – and are kinder to the environment.

What is the best way to cook one of your turkeys?
As we hang them for a minimum of seven to 10 days, you don’t need to overcook them. I usually say about 10-12 minutes per pound. Baste them twice, and brown them for the last 30 minutes. You don’t have to do too much.

What happens for the rest of the year?
We’re a mixed farm, with beef and arable, so I’m busy all year round.
I’m drilling and ploughing at this very moment and we had a new calf born this morning. We are again very traditional in our methods as we use what we grow – the corn feeds the cows and turkeys, for example.

What’s this Harry Potter connection?
Ha! The Norfolk Blacks have marvellous feathers: long, shiny and very extravagant. As we hand pluck the birds, we can pick the very best ones. They make quill pens with them, which are sold in some of the Harry Potter shops. We also sell them to costume designers as they are great for period dresses and hats.

You can read the latest Feast Magazine issue here

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