Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dedication is Plucking By Headlights

I knew it as soon as I picked him up by the legs. This was going to be a long night.

Brendan was a big Bourbon Red Tom, the largest and most handsome of the trio that has lived here since May when I bought them at the Poultry Swap. They cost twenty dollars and a barter deal. He must have weight thirty pounds, a giant bird and larger than I realized when eying him up from the living room's French doors. Originally I was going to slaughter a smaller bird with a limp, but he seemed a little too scrawny for the amount of people attending Thanksgiving Dinner at Livingston Brook Farm, and I didn't want to show up with some puny bird. Lucas, the Bronze Tom, wash';t going anywhere because he and I have an understanding: I think he's adorable and enjoy his peeping into my windows to say hello from the side porch. He's staying and getting a few ladies to keep him company: but Brendan and Limpy Bob toast. Bob gets a bit of a reprieve but he'll go in my freezer for Yule. Brendan has a dinner date this week.

It's a new tradition, but for the last few years I have provided the turkey for Thanksgiving for friends. I always prepare the bird-from living beast to oven ready—on the Tuesday before the holiday. The actions of poultry slaughter and dressing has become something as routine as baking bread or starting a fire - I don't have to think about it anymore. It is a skill I have and it is branded in me, part of me. But unlike setting kindling to flame or kneading dough - this requires some serious reverence, even if it if just for a minute. Taking a life is not a light task, nor should it ever been seen as such. I'm not saying we should get out incense and holy water, but I do think an genuine thank you for the animal's life is needed. So I say a prayer I read in a book once, "Thank you for this gift. We take you not in wontedness but in need." and I say this, to the bird, and take a moment to understand what is happening before the hatchet falls and the bird starts dying. It is not enjoyable, but it is necessary. And the sacrifice is worthy, always.

I started the bird with it's slaughter at 3:30PM, and it didn't take long for him to bleed out and for the work of plucking to begin. There is no plucking machine here besides my hands and no pot big enough to dump him in to loosen the feathers, so I treated him like a game bird, plucking him dry. It took forty-five minutes and it was far from a perfect job. The light went from dim to dark so I let out a sigh, grabbed a beer, and turned on the headlights of the truck to finish the gutting. The whole thing ended up taking an hour and a half of detailed, quiet, and precise work. It started to snow and I pushed on through, not noticing the cold from all the effort and the Tonton- effect of having my hands up an animal's cavity in a snow storm. By the time the cats were circling for bits of entrails and the night turned pitch - I ended up with a turkey that could not fit in a five gallon bucket. I brought it inside to weigh (held high over my head less Annie decide to make it hers) and weighted it in the kitchen. 22 pounds! 22 pounds of meat, bone, and sinew! Holy Crow! I don;t think I EVER raised a bird so large. And to be this big as a heritage breed (not known for their size, more for flavor) was enough to slap a grin across my face so wide it wouldn't fit in a five gallon bucket either.

It's in the fridge now, resting and relaxing from the stiff rigor mortis into edible, soft, stressless meat ready to bake. Tomorrow Patty will come pick it up and my contribution to our group feast will be dotted and signed. I give the bird happily to her, since she is the host and I get to share in the feast without having to do any of the cooking. I think she's getting the short end of the deal, but I'll take a good offer when I am handed it. In this lifestyle of turkey gutting by truck light in a snow squall, you enjoy the breaks when they are laid on the table.