Adrian Edmondson’s TV series set to visit eastern England

A family’s 130-year tradition of rearing Norfolk Black turkeys features in a television programme next week about the best of Britain’s food.

Adrian Edmondson’s series of 20 programmes, Ade in Britain will feature the fens and eastern England on Thursday on ITV from 4pm.

And the story behind the survival of Norfolk’s traditional Black Turkeys, thought to have been enjoyed by King Henry VIII more than 500 years ago, will be highlighted.

Fifth generation farmer James Graham took on the breeding flock rescued from extinction by his grandfather, Frank Peele, in the 1930s. His family moved to Rookery Farm, Thuxton, near Dereham, in 1932, where he produces birds for the Christmas trade with a traditional outdoor system and also sells poults to other producers to finish.

With advice and guidance from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust over the years, Mr Graham has been able to maintain and widen the original narrow genetic base of this breed. He is determined to safeguard it.

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He explained to Adrian Edmondson, who visited the farm last June, how his turkeys are hatched and reared. Later, he invited the presenter to try hand-plucking a bird and, as his wife, Alex, had cooked a turkey the day before the team visited, they were able to tuck into cold turkey with a glass of traditional cider.

Mr Graham explained that all the feed for his turkeys was grown on the mixed arable farm, which has to some extent enabled him to peg the cost of his Christmas birds for a third year. “I’m growing and feeding my own so that I can offer that extra traceability for my turkeys.”

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Last winter’s extreme cold weather has also helped his flock, said Mr Graham, who will prepare about 2,000 birds for Christmas.

“They’ve done exceptionally well this year. The cold snap last Christmas killed off any bugs or bacteria.”

His birds, once hatched, are given access to grass inside small pens, which are moved to fresh land and they spend most of their life in the open air, said Mr Graham.

“Our breeding stock was exceptionally healthy and the turkeys have hatched very good chicks. We’ve had very low mortality,” said Mr Graham, who added that after the welcome period of dry weather, he would rather appreciate some cooler temperatures. “We need some cold weather to help set the feathers and to get that final weight and finish on the birds,” he said.

Alongside his traditional Norfolk Blacks, which have a delicate if slightly richer flavour than other breeds, he is also rearing others including Bourbon Reds, the Lavender and the Narragansett. “I’m keen to offer something a little different to my customers,” he added.

While most of his birds are sold at the farmgate, he also supplies butchers, caterers and restaurants.

Two weeks ago, filming for a forthcoming BBC2 programme, scheduled for broadcast in April, took place at the farm. It will trace the link with the royal palaces and food and relate how King Henry VIII apparently preferred Norfolk Black turkeysto the more traditional goose.

Ade in Britain will be on Thursday, November 10 from 4pm on ITV. It will feature James Graham’s Peele’s Norfolk Black Turkeys, eel fishing, ferrets, and local asparagus with game pie. It is part of a series of 20 programmes, which start

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