Monday, October 14, 2013

Giving Thanks to the Turkey

We got turkeys in early June, and I cannot remember at the moment what part of this story I've included on the blog. So, when the post office called to tell us we had poultry waiting, we hustled right on into town to pick them up. Our kindly postmaster said, as she handed me the shipping box, "This is the quietest bunch of chicks I've seen."  Uh oh...

Of the fifteen turkeys that left Ohio, four were alive in the box. The good news is those lived on. And to start with, they were not all that pretty. They were big, all the same, and they were pretty smart for poultry; by smart, I mean less skittish and pretty observant. Also, their eyes were all black instead of the reptilian yellow of chicken eyes. They made different noises, too; I would compare their noise to the sound of water slipping down a metal tube.

I will admit that we got the overbred white variety. The first reason was that a friend had experience with the gooney birds and heritage breeds, and she warned us that the heritage breeds were a pain to tend and fence. The next reason is that a friend I help with slaughtering gets the gooney variety of chickens, and boy! do those birds get fat. They are also much easier to pluck. I expected these turkeys to be particularly dumb- you know, like drowning because they looked up in a rain storm- but as I already mentioned, they seemed smarter than the average chicken.

Turkey in late August
Well, before we left for our trip about a month back, one of the turkeys was looking pretty doggone big already. I suggested that we might kill him as soon as we got home. With one thing and another, we just did not have time to kill him. For at least a week, I have had mixed feelings about this turkey. I actually LIKE the turkeys and find them interesting. I could sense that killing one might make me sad; killing chickens does not even faze me. On the other hand, every time I looked at this turkey, I felt like Mrs. Hoggett or a starving cartoon character, imagining this living bird dressed for dinner. I have spent a surprising amount of time trying to figure out how to kill a turkey. If such things bother you, skip the next paragraph.

When we kill a chicken, we use a killing cone, which is like a metal snow cone with a hole in the tip for the chicken's head to poke through. This allows for the slaughterer to slit the chicken's throat instead of cutting off the head and makes for a better bleed out. It also keeps the wings from getting broken during death throes. We do not own a killing cone sized for these turkeys, nor do we know anyone with one of that caliber, so I kept pondering what exactly we were going to do. Imagine even catching a bird that big; when we catch chickens for whatever reason they thrash around- wisely- in a way that makes you want to let go. These turkeys are HUGE and if one thrashed around like that, I doubted I would emerge from the battle feeling like a winner. Also, I couldn't imagine exactly how the bird would be secured for the death throes, which is the point in the process that the phrase "like a chicken with her head cut off" comes from. Poultry is very active as it's dying; if the bird's body isn't moving around like mad, you probably haven't successfully killed it. I pondered this question and began asking all sorts of people if they had any idea how to kill a big turkey.

The friend who I trade slaughtering help with had a couple of ideas, and yesterday, he suggested we go ahead a give it a whirl. First, I got a pillow case and cut a hole in the corner. We also got water heating and a piece of baling twine to hang the carcass to pluck it. I also gathered the requisite knives and cleaver. Once the water seemed hot enough, Ezra went to catch the turkey. To be clear, Ezra LIKES catching fowl even if it is for the purpose of killing them. My friend and I followed- my thought being, "how is this kid going to hold onto this thrashing bird?" But that is not what happened.

Ezra knelt beside the bird and put his arms around it and the bird just sat there. Then my friend tried to slip the case over the bird's head. The turkey fought just long enough to tear the pillow case and show how foolish THAT notion was. So, he picked the bird up and walked over to our stump. Still the turkey isn't struggling. It was weirdly peaceful. We had the briefest of confabulations on what exactly we would do now that the wings weren't pinned, but we were on the way to an execution and it just did not feel like there was time left for reflection. I held the bird and he used the cleaver on the neck; the turkey went into death throes and proceeded to beat my shins all to hell with his wings, but I waited out the convulsions and we dipped the bird.

Here was another problem that we did foresee, but couldn't find another way around it. They turkey was too big for a real baptism even in my biggest canning pot. We dip poultry (though not waterfowl) in very hot (though not boiling) water to facilitate plucking. This guy would not really fit all the way in the pot, but we did our best. Around this time, I notice my friend is straining when he has to heft the bird; most likely I was, too, but the adrenaline made me oblivious to my own state. Anyway, I tried to help my friend get this bird hefted up so we could pluck the turkey from a hanging position; it really is much easier than any other way I've tried. And we come to a nice part about these over bred birds. That turkey was so darn easy to pluck, even the parts of him that had only a dousing in the hot water.

Then, I laid the bird in the garden cart and eviscerated him. His liver filled the palm of my hand; his heart was big enough to look at the different valves and ventricles. He was so heavy that I wasn't sure I could carry him into the house. I kept looking at him and trying to figure out how I was going to cool him down. The meat is more tender if you don't put them straight into the freezer. If they can sit in cold water overnight, it's a little like hanging beef. And this guy was not bound for the freezer anyway. Thanks to my sister's wife, he ended up in our cooler under water on the back deck overnight. I did weigh him before I got him under water, and he weighed roughly 30 pounds.

This morning, he looked like this.
The quart jar is to give a little perspective. He is sitting in a 12 quart bowl.  I really was not sure how to cook a bird this big; I just knew it was worth my while to do whatever it took from letting the meat get dry.

The first thing I did was cut the neck off and throw it in a pot with the heart, gizzard, and liver to make stock for the dressing. Then, I split the skin on his back and used the cleaver to cut him in half up the back. I had thought I would break his breast bone and then cut him in half there, too, but his breast bone was too much for me. I just split the breast and cut the bone the same way I did the back. Then I put each half into a roasting pan with some salt, pepper, parsley onion, lard and a little water. I covered them and cooked them at 200 for about 8.5 hours. That is one delicious turkey; we had a little dressing, some potatoes, some green beans, so cranberry sauce, and friends to share the dinner with. We have a lot to be thankful for.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a. like an adventure
    b. delicious

    I still am not sure if I could look something in the eye that I was planning to eat.