From the Archives: November/December 2006

Christmas with the Kitts: A farm Christmas in Peace Country

by Mary Bailey

I know I’m home for Christmas when Sam has the counter covered in slices of bread.”

Jerry Kitt, his wife Sam, and their children Donovan and Kari, operate First Nature Farm west of Grande Prairie, 40 miles from the BC border. Christmastime is a busy time for this family. Along with their high-quality certified organic pork, chicken and beef, the Kitts raise turkeys, delivering 150 fresh Nicholson White and Royal Pom birds during the week before Christmas. It means long hours on the road, driving to and from the farmers’ markets in Grande Prairie and Edmonton, plus the special Christmas markets.

Not only does the bread on the counter mean Sam’s making stuffing, it signals the end of the turkey season until next year. The family can settle in for a week of spending time with family and friends.

Christmas starts for Sam with the annual cookie exchange in mid-December. She’ll make 12 dozen hinges (their name for almond crescents). “Thirteen families exchange,” says Sam.“We’ll get together and sit around and visit and go home with all sorts of cookies.”

Then there is the annual turkey catching party. The group gets together to catch the turkeys, then eats burgers. It’s a meal well-earned.

“I’m fussy about how they’re caught; there’s a technique; you need to kind of catch them around the chest, not by the wing or leg,” says Jerry. “These turkeys weigh about 50 pounds each—it’s a two-person job and you have to be careful.”

The get-togethers begin in earnest once school is out. “We have a midnight ski the day the kids get out of school,” says Sam. “One of our friends has made trails that wind through the forest, ending up at a lake nearby. We have a fire and a bit of a party.”

“I always miss the ski party due to the markets,” says Jerry, sadly.

Jerry never misses the Christmas Tree party, held on a mid-December Sunday. “Our tradition is to get together at a friend’s, make a fire, have a wienie roast, drink hot chocolate. Then each family goes out to get a tree — we like to come back with a tall one, eleven feet or so, which is a nice fit in our house,” says Jerry.

They’re careful where they cut; “usually on forest that’s already designated for a cut line.”

“The other thing we do before we cut the tree down is I make everyone circle it and sing Oh Christmas Tree three times,’ says Jerry. “Well, we only know the first verse, so we repeat it three times. I’ve been doing that for about 30 years.”

Sam’s parents, Bill and Joan Case, drive out from Grande Prairie on Christmas Eve. They bring the wine and home-made bran muffins to have with the Christmas Eve clam chowder, and some of Joan’s cranberry sauce. She picks the cranberries herself near Yellowknife, during the summer. Sam’s brother lives there and sometimes he’s able to join the family for Christmas.

There’s always chores to do, even during the holidays and their farm is no exception. “We like to do something special for the animals; extra straw, extra food, a bale of alfalfa,” says Jerry.

Joe, their Bethlehem donkey, gets some of the rich turkey food.

“He’s after it all year long,” says Jerry. “So we give him a treat at Christmas.”

The main event is served around 6 pm. Dinner is traditional broccoli with cheese sauce, roast turkey (“we hand-pick, then roast a big one so there are lots of leftovers for sandwiches, my favourite,” says Jerry) with a sage stuffing, baked ham, mashed turnips with lashings of butter, jellied and tossed salads, and pie, usually pumpkin. After dinner, there may be a walk, out comes the accordion, and they’ll play the piano and sing carols. Later, they’ll bring out the cookies.

“The knives and forks may not match, but it’s a warm, fun, relaxing time,” says Sam.

The next few days are quiet—the turkeys are sold, the phone doesn’t ring. The break, which will last until the New Year, is filled with family, impromptu visiting and group activities outside. “We’re pretty spontaneous,” says Sam. “It’s usually pot luck; one year it was pot luck leftovers.”

Jerry’s fondest Christmas memory is this: “One year we were just starting the clam chowder when the power went out. We ran around looking for candles, lit them, moved the food from the oven to the wood heater. We had a lovely candlelight dinner. After dinner, the power still hadn’t come back on, so we sang carols, played the piano by candlelight, told stories. It was as if time stood still, it was so beautiful,” says Jerry.

“I was kinda disappointed when the lights came back on.”

The Kitt Family may still have turkeys available,

Kitt Family Hinges
2 c butter
6 T icing sugar
2 c sifted flour
1 c blanched ground almonds

Whip butter. Mix all ingredients together until they are not crumbly. Place about a teaspoon of dough into hand. Make a ball and roll in palm of hand to make a crescent shape. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes. Roll in icing sugar or dip one end in melted chocolate.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Classic Turkey Stuffing

Classic stuffing recipes are variations on the theme of butter, celery and onions, poultry seasoning and bread.

½ c butter
1 large bunch celery with leaves, chopped
4 large onions chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ c poultry seasoning
2 T dry sherry or dry white wine
½ c chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 loaves dry bread, torn into cubes

Melt butter in a large saute pan, and add onions, celery, garlic and poultry seasoning. Let cook, without browning, for about 15-20 minutes until most of the moisture is gone and the vegetables are very soft. Add sherry, stir, add stock, stir, season generously with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Pour over bread cubes and mix lightly. Check for seasoning. Let cool. (Stuffing can be made the day before and refrigerated, covered, overnight.) Makes about six cups of stuffing.