Recipe Sunday: An Interview with the Duffy Hill Farmers and Fried Duck Nuggets

“Foodies” and restaurateurs like to think they know food, but few people know food more intimately than small farmers. If you want to “know where your food comes from,” there’s no better way than befriending a farmer. With that – and the fast-approaching seed-buying season – in mind, for this mid-winter Recipe Sunday we’re offering up an abbreviated version of a farm profile we wrote last fall, including recipes for Duck Nuggets, a Beet and Pole Bean Salad, and a heavenly Salad Greens Mix. Enjoy. Launie and Jedd K.

The fields of Duffy Hill Farm

Halfway up one of the many green hills rolling gently a mile outside the small village of Enosburg Falls, Vermont, sits a small house built in 1870, a unique two-cupola barn and two acres of hard work done in 2011 by five young college friends.

Duffy Hill Farm was a vegetable and duck farm that proprietors Lucy deWahl, Eli Hersch, and Sam Boutin described as a “one-year experiment.” In the first week of August, just months after they’d planted their first seeds, we sat down with the recent college graduates to eat Duck Nuggets with a honey mustard dipping sauce (see recipe below) and a beautiful beet, carrot and pole bean salad (see recipe below) to talk about food, farming, the trials of rearing ducks, their marvelous salad greens mix (see recipe below), and the broad variety of vegetables in their fields.

The Duffy Hill farmers (and their 2 interns, good friends Joe and Nate, who worked the fields for food and lodging) grew a variety of produce, from Daikon radishes and basil to Forellenschluss, an Austrian heirloom lettuce whose name translates as “speckled like the back of a trout.”

Lucy deWahl showing us the different greens in the salad mix

Their popular salad mix was a blend of 11 varieties of greens, including leaf lettuces, mustard green varieties (spicy to subtle), Asian greens, chicories and endive. Tasted individually, those ingredients ranged from bitter to gentle, but together they created a lively blend of flavors that still stands out in our minds even 5 months later. If you are a garden grower, we can’t recommend enough that you give these a shot this summer.

For a short-term venture, Duffy Hill Farm did enviably well. Their vegetables and ducks were purchased wholesale by area restaurants and buyers at several farmers markets in Northern Vermont. They also had 21 people join their C.S.A. (C.S.A. stands for Community Supported Agriculture – a program where people buy “shares” in a farm and reap their reward in weekly vegetables in the summer. Your investment helps the farm buy seeds and prepare for planting. If there are CSAs in your area – the numbers and geographical reach seem to be growing – now is a great time to join because many offer winter discounts.)

Left to right: Sam Boutin, Eli Hersh and Lucy deWahl

Boutin said the wide variety of vegetables in their fields was also a form of security for this freshman farming effort. The fields were unknown, the business model was untested. If one vegetable failed, something else would do well.

But the 70 ducks they raised were really their ace in the hole. One-hundred-and-fifty ducks generate the same profit as 450 chickens, they explained. So 70 ducks would cover their expenses if all else went wrong. And if everything went right, they might turn a small profit.

Sitting with them and noshing on delicious duck patties and a stunning salad on a summer’s evening in August, it sounded like everything had gone according to plan.

As Hersch described their mindset going into the venture, “If nothing else, we’ll eat well and we’ll have a lot of fun. And we ate well and we had fun.”

In honor of these organic farmers and their one-year experiment – and in preparation for the coming growing season – we’re passing along these recipes to you.

Duck Nuggets

  • The meat of 19 duck necks (about 1 ½ pounds of meat, ground or finely chopped)*
  • 2 pounds ground chicken (to cut the richness of the duck meat)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable or peanut oil

* Regular duck meat works well too, but our young farming friends were using the whole animal, a trait that we respect and a taste we enjoyed. If you’re not using neck meat, just substitute the chicken for more duck.

Combine the chicken and duck in a large bowl with the parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. In another bowl beat the eggs. In a pie plate, mix together the flour and some salt and pepper.

Pour oil halfway up the side of a pot. Heat oil to 375. Roll out 30-35 small balls of the meat. Dunk the meat into the flour, then the egg, then back into the flour. Fry the meat in small batches for 5-6 minutes, making sure your oil stays up to temperature. Drain and enjoy with a mixture of honey and mustard for dipping.

Beet and Pole Bean Salad

  • Beet roots, julienned or shredded
  • Pole beans
  • Carrots, julienned or shredded

This is a pretty self-explanatory recipe, really, but it’s as delicious as it is simple.

Here’s the vinaigrette we made when we recreated the salad at home.

Lemon Dill Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • Salt and pepper

Bring it out on the lawn – if you’re lucky enough to have one – and enjoy with some friends.

Salad Greens Mix
(If you’re daydreaming with your seed catalogs, here’s a fun project.)

  • Forellenschluss lettuce
  • Green Wave Spicy Mustard
  • Mizuna (a milder, Japanese mustard)
  • Tatsoi (an Asian leaf green)
  • Tango Green (an heirloom leaf lettuce)
  • Red Salad Bowl (another heirloom lettuce variety)
  • Lola Rosa (a red leaf lettuce)
  • Ruby Streaks (another spicy mustard)
  • Garden Cress
  • Chicory Trieste Sweet (Zuccherina di Trieste)
  • Endive

Play with the ratios until you get a combination of flavors that you like.

(Photos by Launie K.)

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