Frank Hart from True Vine Farms with his son, Beau, at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market.
When I was younger, single and living in Los Angeles, my brother-in-law Kenny always kidded me about my date dinners. I had a two-dish rotation, and roasted Cornish hen was the deal cincher, thanks to springs of rosemary and plenty of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
I stopped eating Cornish hens years ago, not because I didn't want to impress my husband (yes, the hens worked on him), but because I discovered how most hens and chickens are raised. Still, I've missed my favorite meal, which is why I'm so excited that hens are back on our family menu, thanks to the lovely Cornish-Rock cross now available from True Vine Farm at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market.
Lisa and Frank Hart raise the chickens in Byhalia, but they are processed in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the closest USDA inspected facility to Memphis is located. Frank drives the hens to the plant and works on the floor to process the hens' livers, gizzards and feet.
"Feet?" I asked. "Who wants the feet?" Plenty of local chefs, he said, along with family cooks making chicken stock.
On Saturday, I skipped the feet in favor of two hens which are feed grass and grain instead of steriods, hormones or antibiotics. "We move them around in chicken tractors," Frank said. "That way, they get new areas to feed and are not subject to predators."
The hens I purchased weighed between 2 and 4 pounds, an average weight for True Vine chickens. "We don't want them to grow too big, because then the meat gets a little dry," Frank said. (The family did, however, let a hen named Goliath grow to more than 8 pounds. He ended up in a stew pot.)
At $5 a pound, the hens are more expensive than traditional grocery store fare, but the taste merits the price. The hen I roased was excellent and served a two-adult dinner with enough meat leftover for sandwiches the next day.
Hart should have plenty of hens for the next few weeks, but it's best to click here and send Frank an email to make sure there's a hen left for you. Even better, buy several to freeze. Once these hens are sold, True Vine won't have another batch until after Christmas, as the hens need eight to 10 weeks to grow.
True Vine Farms, Byhalia, Mississippi, email@example.com.