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Christmas Week at Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds Mini-Store
Features - Farmers and Markets
Written by Heather Atwood   

It’s ten o’clock at night and you’re plum out of pasture-raised, heritage-breed, finished-on-apples-and-barley, ham roast.  

Or, it’s Christmas Eve- your first day off this week -  and you’ve been working so hard you haven’t thought one second about Christmas dinner.  In your fantasy life you live in the French countryside, walk around your chateau in your wellies and wax coat and serve rabbit braised in Cote de Rhone for Christmas dinner.  But where the heck would you ever get a farm-raised rabbit at 4:00 on Christmas Eve?  

Or where will you get pasture-raised eggs for your Christmas Breakfast? Or maple- cured, hickory-smoked bacon from that same heritage-breed mentioned above?


“Honey, I’m just going to run out to Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds in Concord and pick up a few things!” you call out to whomever.

The pigs at Pete and Jen’s, like all their livestock - chickens, sheep for lamb and mutton, rabbits - live in pastures, are chased around (rotated) to make sure they’re chomping from fresh grasses.  Those blessed Tamworth pigs spend their last days on thirty acres of apple orchard, a diet of dropped Macs embellished with certified organic barley, which hardens the fat in the bacon, making it melt smoother than the grocery store stuff.  

(Jen told me recently that they spend a lot of time reading books about farming from the 1920’s to 1940’s, before American farming met industry, meaning before American farms became fueled on corn and soy.)  

But what’s really cool is that Pete and Jen’s mini-store - and it’s mini - is open 24 hours a day until Christmas.  That’s the 7-11 of grass-fed beef (not their own, but all Belted Galloway Cattle from family farms in New England.  ALERT:  I don’t think the beef is available in the mini-store this week, but know it’s available at other times.)  The Store 24 for pork jowls.  Yes, at a recent visit, pork jowls, pig’s feet, stewing hens, chicken feet, blocks of lard and a combo pack of pig organs were all available.  

But so was Jen’s homemade pesto.  Specialty salts Jen prepares with a coarse Portuguese salt and her own herbs - herbs de Provence, for example - were for sale. There’s a vanilla and cinnamon salt that Jen declares divine on pies or pork.  Along with her smoked chipotle salt you can pick up at any time of night the house-smoked, home-grown chipotles themselves, lest you were intending to add some umami richness to that braised rabbit on Christmas Day.

Jen promises ham steaks, their own kielbasa, and country-style ribs in the store this week.  Imagine the feast available to you now!

Stockings not filled yet?  The mini-store carries a line of handmade soaps appropriately named “Backyard Bubbles,” produced with the animal fats from Pete and Jen’s happy stock.  Consider the lavender, tea-tree oil, strawberry lemongrass and camomile soaps “of the Concord Terroir,” made from the chicken, pork and goat fats from Wheeler Rd.  And consider them a bargain because soaps thus made last a long, long time.  

No gift yet for the Wolfhound?  Pete and Jen sell a line of “Backyard Buddies,” dog treats made from dehydrated chicken gizzards.  What dog doesn’t want chicken gizzards for Christmas?

It’s just worth seeing. The Mini-store is basically two refrigerators in a closet between the barns out in the back of the Verrill Farm Store.  (Pete is the farm manager at Verrill Farm.  The Backyard Birds are in the rows of buildings behind the Verrill store.) There’s a small table for the soaps and salts, and a slot in the door into which you put your cash or check. Tenderly-raised, pasture-fed, coddled meats and stockings stuffers all for sale on the honor system.  Only at the North Pole is the shopping goodwill so powerful.



From Heather Atwood's Gloucester Times blog, "Food for Thought": As a painter and writer, Heather Atwood spent a lot of time waiting on tables in great restaurants. While struggling with color and line, she was also learning how to roast a great chicken, and what it means to balance textures in a dish. She’s been interested in good food ever since. Married, the mother of two daughters, Heather now lives in Rockport, Mass. and is the food columnist for the Gloucester Daily Times. She is featured regularly in Taste of the Times videos and her writing can also be seen in the Wednesday food section of the Times.

This is Heather's first article for Local In Season.


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