In the old days, when we were seemingly among the few families who ate in a manner that is today called “locavore” — frequently eating things like eel, duck, and venison, as well as rose hips, wild grapes, and, of course, beach plums — we were not infrequently on the receiving end of gifts from hunters who had taken more than they could personally consume.
For many years, we were given a Gardiner’s Island deer from the island’s gamekeeper, Clarence Mackay. The fresh-killed beast would be hung from our old barn’s rafters for an appropriate period and then turned into venison stew and roasts. At other times, we were on the receiving end of recently demised wild turkeys, from a source that shall go nameless; that was decades ago, in the 1980s.
The butchering of the deer, in some years, was seen to by a family member, but on at least one occasion we took a gigantic wild bird
to Dreesen’s, Rudy DiSanti’s shop on Newtown Lane, where it was plucked and divided into big chunks. (Scoop du Jour, an ice cream shop, occupies half of Dreesen’s Market these days, and I like to imagine that some of the old sawdust continues to linger between the floor boards.)
No one used the term “free range” in those days. To call wild game free range would be redundant in the extreme.
We thought wild turkeys were far more delicious than any domestic bird could possibly be. There is an unfortunate misconception, still held in many quarters, that wild poultry would be tough and stringy in comparison to that raised commercially, but that is just not the case. In my experience, wild turkeys are more flavorful than domestic ones, even those that are said to be organic. I’m told that the hunting of them today is very strictly controlled, with hunters only allowed to take a very small number.
Of course, we were then, and still are, spoiled by having access to good, local birds from the Iacono poultry farm on Long Lane, where Sal and Eileen Iacono raised chickens from 1948 until turning over the enterprise to their son, Anthony. Supermarket chickens are a poor excuse for dinner when you are accustomed to one from East Hampton’s own Iacono farm.
In 1982, at Thanksgiving time, The Star quoted Sal Iacono proudly saying that his family farm was not ever going to raise turkeys. “Chicks are our thing,” he said. “To raise turkeys for one week of the year is too much work. After Thanksgiving is over, people don’t want a 30-pound turkey anymore.”
These days, I can think of two excellent enterprises that sell locally raised turkeys for Thanksgiving: North Sea Farms on Noyac Road and the farm at Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton. I’ve had very nice Thanksgivings with big birds from both, but you’ll excuse me if I say that nothing quite compares to the memory of those long-ago wild ones.