August 2010: For the birds

 “Everything’s a work in progress,” says Leni Sorensen about the home and acreage she shares with her husband Kip in White Hall. Transplants (as of 1982) from South Dakota, the couple have long had their hands in rural pursuits, from growing vegetables to raising pigs and cows. 


Kip, a master carpenter, is building them a new dwelling after their farmhouse burned down in 2000; for the moment, they live in an apartment over their garage. Meanwhile, other projects bubble along: an outdoor oven, a big beautiful garden, a flock of laying hens and an even bigger flock of broilers. 

The latest addition: 10 ducks that will provide meat for the fall and winter months. Leni, a passionate cook and a culinary historian (who also works as an African-American research historian at Monticello), already has plenty of ideas about what she’ll do with that homegrown duck meat. 

“I’m fascinated by recipes for Peking duck, Chinese style,” she says. “I’ll probably try anything that has to do with fruity, plumy, apricoty, winey sauce that goes well with duck.”—Erika Howsare

Kip: “You’re the one who suggested the ducks. We have this pond, and it seems to scream out for ducks.”

Leni: “I like to eat duck. Last fall I went to a party at Live Arts, and the food was fabulous. One of the things was rare sliced duck breast. I literally had to take myself away from the table. I thought, I would like to eat duck now and then. I had raised ducks; that’s not that hard. Then the challenge was, if they were going to have access to this pond, where would they then live?”

Kip: “We just enclosed these steps leading up to [the apartment door]. I needed a window in it, and happened to have the right number of glass blocks, so I built them into it.”

Leni: “They’re messy, messy, messy. They take their food, put it in their mouths, go right over to the water and use it to get the food wet. So the water gets messy.” 

Kip: “They like grass and insects. Insects are nailed as soon as they fly in there. But what they really love is a dirty old pond bottom, to muck in the mud.”

Leni: “They are Pekin ducks—white with longish necks. Like Ping—when I was a child that was a children’s book. There were these beautiful lithographs—these ducks lived on a boat in China. They would get to the rice paddy, go down a gangplank, and spend the day eating the bugs and manuring the rice paddy. There were these illustrations of the ducks going up the gangplank to their home at night.” 

Kip: “I have to make them a beach—their own little yellow-sand beach.”

Leni: “So they can go in and out easily when they’re young. With 10 ducks, we might have enough meat not to have to have ducks next year. I’m also trying to see if we can eat just our own chicken. And we have eggs. 

“I’ll probably give a few away as presents. They’re quite juicy because they’ve got so much fat in their skin. Probably the duck fat would make a wonderful savory pie crust—for pot pies and savory appetizers. It’ll take a lot of flour. That’s what gives it that grainy mouthfeel, that melt-in-your-mouth feel. And it goes well with savory or very rich fruity [fillings]…real venison mincemeat, you’d want a pie crust that could stand up to that flavor. 

“And aside from that, they’re just such fun animals.”

Kip: “Chickens are awful sweet, but these guys are just adorable.”

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