Talking Copas turkeyBy Linda Fort
December 08, 2011
The Copas family raises turkeys just for Christmas and have been doing so for more than 50 years.
Linda Fort visited the flock in Cookham Dean
When I called at the farm in Grubwood Road in November, the turkeys had 20 days to go.
They were trotting around happily in large fields on a sunny, cold morning.
Jungles of tall grasses and maize provided cover for them as well a large airy structures to keep them dry. They also wander in the farms extensive cherry orchards.
I remarked to Jodie Cavaye who was showing me round that they didn’t really gobble as much as I had expected - more of a squawking sound, really.
She turned to the huge flock of birds that surrounded us and with a commanding presence, gave a very passable impersonation of a turkey.
“Gobble, gobble gobble, “ she cried.
And hundreds of birds responded filling the air with as many impressive gobble noises as anyone could wish for.
Not satisfied with one such demonstration, she regularly broke off mid-sentence throughout our tour to call to the birds allowing me to enjoy the full–throated benefit of the flock in chorus.
There is something irresistibly funny about turkeys and these seemed as cheerful as captive creatures could possibly be.
They had already enjoyed a much longer life than the average oven-ready monster you see in the supermarket in the run-up to the festive season.
Most turkeys are slaughtered as two-month-old toddlers compared with the seasoned teenagers at Copas which are six to seven months old when they leave the field for the table.
That extra lifespan allows the birds to lay down fat for the winter.
After slaughter, they are hung for two weeks then plucked by hand.
The extra fat means the birds do not need to be basted when cooked.
Copas also recommends cooking them upside-down so that the natural fat seeps back through the meat keeping its most, tender and full of flavour.
The turkey business was started by Tom Copas on the family pig farm.
He began on his 18th birthday with 150 turkeys in 1957.
This year, the farm has raised 40,000 – there are 25 different breeds. A small number are raised fully organically, the vast majority are free range – and there are some traditional white turkeys raised indoors.
Apart from a very small number supplied for Thanksgiving and Easter, they are all raised for the Christmas market.
When I visited, I was introduced to the free range and to the organic turkeys.
The organic birds are raised in very much the same way as the free range turkeys except they are kept on land that has received Soil Association accreditation and are fed with organic feed.
The free range turkeys live the same lives and eat the same kind of food but the final price is not as high at those organically raised because accreditation and organic feed make them considerably more expensive.
To the untrained eye – apart from the separate enclosures – the birds appeared exactly the same, roaming around in vast fields muttering amiably to one another. The whole Copas family – Sarah, Tanya, Fenella and Tom – is now involved in the production.
And mum Brenda who has always been a working farmer’s wife shares her experience with some useful cooking tips.
She even markets her own very special gravy – ready made for your busy Christmas day. When you buy a Copas turkey, it comes with a leaflet with these recipes and full cooking instructions to help your Christmas day run smoothly.
You can also buy a number of Copas products – chutneys, preserves and the gravy and an ingenuious pair of four-pronged turkey forks for lifting the great bird from roasting tin to carving dish.
The company also sells Christmas hampers which are very popular with big companies which like to give them to their employees.
Although the recession in the last two years has affected the hamper market, Copas has found families still seem to like to pay that little bit extra for their Christmas turkey.
The snow in the last two years has been more of a problem than the economic climate, but locals were happy to arrive on foot with sledges to make sure they got their Christmas turkey home in time for the December 25 feast.
Copas Turkeys regularly win foodies awards. In 2011, the family firm got a gold star for Brenda’s gravy in the Great Taste Awards and won the Brand Identity in the Pig and Poultry Marketing award.
They were highly commended in the Poulterer of the Year this year and last year won a Christmas Q from the Quality Food Awards for their free range organic birds.
In 2010, they also won the Soil Association’s Organic Food Awards and gained two gold stars for their free range bronze turkeys in the Great Taste Awards.
You can order online and collect your bird at the farm on December 23, or you can have it delivered.
Copas turkeys are also sold through all the best butchers throughout the country.
Jennings in Hurst, John Thonners in Hare Hatch and Dopson in Crowthorne are among the local butchers where you can buy a Copas turkey.
Visit www.copasturkeys.co.uk or call 01628 499980 to order a Christmas bird and find out about the full range of their products.
First prepare the stock – for the gravy or for post-Christmas turkey soup.
One stick of celery cut into chunks
One bay leaf
Wash the giblets under cold running water. Place all ingredients in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil then simmer for two hours.
Strain and store in the fridge until needed.
Brenda’s Very Special Gravy
Turkey meat juices
Splash of port
1tbsp cranberry sauce
Pour pan juices from the roast turkey into a measuring jug and remove fatty liquid from the top.
Pour the remaining juices into a saucepan, add strained stock to taste and simmer. Add a splash of port if desired and/or a tablespoon of cranberry sauce.
To thicken the gravy, mix a little cornflour with cold water into a “milk” and add to the gravy mixture.
Stirring all the time, bring to the boil, strain and serve.