Saving rare breeds for the dinner table

The rabbit livers got sent to the wrong hotel, but chefs Scott Crawford of Herons and Bret Jennings of Elaine’s on Franklin didn’t miss a beat in the Herons kitchen in Cary. Chicken livers filled in quite nicely, and still fit the theme of today’s lunch: Offering the unusual in meat. While I was raised on fried chicken livers – packaged chicken parts didn’t exist in my childhood, so my mother cut up her own chicken and fried everything found in it – I still know many people who won’t touch one. I also picked up a great tip: Using finely ground dried potato flakes in the breading.

The meal was part of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s conference this weekend. The organization promotes preservation of 170 rare breeds of livestock and poultry in danger of extinction, including donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Pittsboro organization was founded in 1977. Find out more about the ALBC here.

The roast lamb served today was from one of those breeds, the Hog Island sheep, which has a fascinating story. Farmer Bryan Childress, who raises the sheep on his southwest Virginia farm, said the sheep  lived on the Virginia island from the 1600s (likely brought by English settlers) through the early 1930s. The population was moved from the island – except they forgot a few sheep. When the Army wanted to use the island in 1974, a few of the sheep were found there, and he’s worked to save them ever since. “They’re good foragers,” Childress said. “They’ll eat acorns, lots of things.”

History usually doesn’t taste so good.

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