I love a hot turkey dinner so I really love Thanksgiving. I really believe Thanksgiving is really special in the Hamptons because of the 470-480-year-old history of the towns and hamlets of the East End of Long Island.
There are so many wonderful scenic historic still working farms tucked away everywhere. There are also really old homes. Come this time of year (fall), as I drive the back roads I love to look over the fresh cut corn fields and see old wooden barns, along with smoke coming out the chimneys of small farmhouses. Instantly I can feel the history.
One particular farm, North Sea Farm on Noyac Road, is neither really old or really historic, but they are selling live white big breasted turkeys at $5.35 per pound. I pass those white turkeys all summer long, but soon there just won’t be as many. They are selling them right up until Thanksgiving if you want to order one!
North Sea Farms is a fascinating story of Tate King, father of “Cookie Queen” Kathleen King who started baking her famous chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen of the farmhouse when she was 11, along with her older sister Helen. Helen didn’t fancy selling the cookies, but Kathleen did and recently sold her cookie empire for many millions.
However, it’s the story Tate told me 13 years ago before both he and his wife passed away that’s stuck with me. I was in the kitchen with Tate and his wife Millicent. With the view of the fields out the window, he said it had been, “A 27-year roller coaster ride of being in the dairy business.”
He explained how around 1952, (the year I was born) he met Millicent, calling his wife, “The greatest thing ever to happen to me.” He credited Southampton minister John Felmeth, who also was a former U.S. Marine Captain, for putting him on the right path for the rest of his life, including encouraging him to marry “Millie.” That marriage blessed the Kings with four children, Richard, Kathleen, Karen and Kevin. Many times that day as we talked, Tate King stressed that the income that Millie brought in as a registered nurse was vital to the farm and his family’s success.
Due to market conditions, Mr. King ended his dairy business in 1975 and took the advice of good friend Ray Halsey to create an official “farmstand.” Up until then, there was a sort of unofficial business going on of selling some eggs, chickens, milk and other farm products. Tate King said listening to Ray “was the best business thing I ever did.”
So besides being a farmstand, they do sell live turkeys.
I do have to share a Thanksgiving story from that very same year I interviewed Mr. King. I was living in Montauk and working as a paid journalist by the article. Everyone knows in the off-season things slow down and so your income dips; not just for a journalist, but almost all East End businesses. It was my first year living in Montauk, so I just didn’t know too many folks. So, when my Nokia flip-phone rang it was Ingrid Lemme, the Social Director of Gurney’s. It seemed David Rattiner, my editor at the time, mentioned to her that I was going to be home alone for Thanksgiving. After talking it over with then Gurney’s CEO Paul Monte, she invited me to their table at the Gurney’s Thanksgiving feast. To this day, I remember talking Mets baseball with Paul’s dad Angelo Monte, a proud but modest Normandy Beach invasion surviving Marine from World War II. Thank you again Ingrid and Paul!
However, I must close this column with the story of the turkey I cooked at the trailer in Ditch Plains, Montauk (2008) where I rented. It was going to be our last Thanksgiving there because David was selling the place. So, I decided to cook a turkey! Then David decided to have Thanksgiving with his family, but said he would be back to sample my turkey. Proudly I basted the turkey in the oven until all of a sudden, the oven died, we had run out gas. In the trailer park there are no gas lines just huge propane gas tanks delivered. There I was with a half-cooked turkey wondering what to do.
After some thought I split the turkey in half and stuck it into our “small” microwave oven and kept microwaving both halves until I thought they were safe to eat. The result was sort of like turkey leather jerky. Yet with lots of gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes I ate it happily. I still remember David laughing when I told him the whole story. At sixty-something, it is remembering such tales that makes a life.