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Posted: Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2008

As ducks go, Pekins are mild, moist

By Kathleen Purvis
Published in: Kathleen Purvis

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I can't say this one was a chore I'd duck.

In April, Natalie Veres and Cassie Parsons of Grateful Growers Farm gathered a small group for a pork tasting.

It was raining and chilly as we huddled around a table at Ratcliffe on the Green while chef/owner Mark Hibbs brought out pork dishes from two kinds of old-breed pigs, the Tamworths that Grateful Growers is known for and another one called a Hereford.

The tasting was so successful, Grateful Growers is keeping the Tamworths and adding a new line of Herefords crossed with Tamworths.

A few weeks ago at the Charlotte Tailgate Market, Parsons only had to say one thing to me: “We're tasting duck – want to come?”

She had me at “duck.” I love duck. I love to eat it, but I really love to cook it. Breaking it down into legs for roasting and breasts for searing, trimming the skin for cracklings and rendering the fat for potatoes, cooking down the carcasses into duck broth.

Chefs love ducks, too, which is why Veres and Parsons are trying to pick a breed of duck to raise. They've been playing with Muscovies and Pekins that they've sold to a few local restaurants.

They have two others they're also trying, old-breed ducks called Khaki Campbells and Blue Swedish.

This time, a small group of us met at Longview Country Club on another rainy afternoon, where chef Paul Verica had roasted Khakis, Swedish and Pekins.

Parsons already has her favorite, she admitted. The Khakis and Swedish ducks are “spastic – they're hard to raise.”

But the Pekins seem to be friendlier and calmer.

They're also pretty. In pictures, they're white with orange bills, like the ducks you'd see on the curtains in a country-décor kitchen.

Even cooked, you could spot them. They're bigger, mild-tasting and moister. The other two were darker and a bit gamier, but still flavorful.

After we had picked and prodded, the subject of duck eggs came up. Grateful Growers may add those, too.

Verica ran downstairs and scrambled 10 of them. And I've never tasted eggs quite like them – fluffy, mouth-filling, almost meaty in flavor.

“It's like I've never tasted egg before,” said Dani Goldfischer of Earth Fare.

Grateful Growers ducks will be available by Thanksgiving, although they won't be cheap. At $8.39 a pound, a typical 4-pound duck will be about $34. Definitely a special-occasion purchase.

But the eggs? Those will be worth every penny – if they have any to spare.

Carolinas have Pink Lady apples

I've gotten several calls from apple growers about my recent column on the difficulty of spotting locally grown food.

I had mentioned Pink Lady apples as a line that is mostly grown in California and the Northwest, information that I got from the Web site for Crispin Pink Lady apples.

Since then, I have heard there are some Pink Lady trees in the Carolinas.

My apologies to those growers. But it also proves my point: Determining when something is locally grown can take detective work.

E-mail: kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com

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