Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cold Turkey, Hot Day

This story is not for the faint of heart. Oh, no... it's for those out there who aspire to "earn their chops", "put their money where their mouths are" and "do what has to be done" when "the rubber hits the road." I could come up with a few more cliches if ya like, but basically, I found my homesteading, self-sufficient ideals tested last week. Seriously tested.

The day started out ordinarily enough. I was working from home. Engaged in some sort of work-related phone conversation. The turkeys had been making a bit of noise. Nothing unusual, just the squawks and whistles and "gubbagubbabubba" of everyday life around here. (There's quite a cacophony around here: roosters, hens, guineas, sheep all chiming in about whatever interests them whenever it interests them.) Anyway, I glanced out the window and saw a turkey-- one of our HUMONGOUS white turkeys-- lying suspiciously still in the pasture.

I extricated myself from the phone as quickly as I could. (No, I did not use the time-worn "Um, dead turkey in the field gotta go.") And with pounding heart, I hustled down to survey the damage.

The giant lay flat on his back. Spread-eagled, you might say. He had not been attacked or injured in any obvious way. Near as I could tell, he'd been tussling with the other toms, fell down and couldn't get up. I learned later that giant double-breasted turkeys like this are prone to heart attacks.

Whatever the case, I grabbed those gigantic feet and wrestled the body out of the pasture. The rest of the turkeys gave me quite the wide berth as I hobbled along, half-dragging half carrying the body. They peeped over the fence one last time as we passed from view, and then resumed their regular turkey duties, strutting and pecking and wandering about in a tight little flock.

I set the body in the barn. It was a hot, hot day and already, flies were gathering.

Ugh. What now?

Well.... I thought about it a while. And then a longer while... and then I called Dan. (OF COURSE he was at work, far, far away in my hour of need, and not due for oh, a half a day or so.)

My better half was suitably apologetic about not being around and also suitably sympathetic. But then he threw me a little curve ball: "You can't let all that meat go to waste." He said.

Oh, he was right. Completely, utterly right. What a miserable thing it'd be to raise a turkey-- for meat no less-- and then leave it to rot because it happened to keel at an inopportune moment!

But dressing a full-grown, no-- GI-NORMOUSLY-grown-- turkey without the proper prep and equipment. Well, daunting is an understatement. Also, in our few previous meat-prepping adventures, Dan did the gory stuff. I, um, plucked.

We didn't have a pot big enough to scald the turkey (Scalding is the step before plucking) and anyway, I could not lift it into a pot of boiling water safely. Heck, I couldn't lift it period. Oh, and the kids were due home in less than an hour and I was due to meet their bus (Preferably not while up to my eyeballs in gore...)

I decided, after some research that I'd work on salvaging the breast and legs. And go from there.

So.... that's how I came to be skinning and cutting and hacking away at a dead turkey when, with a screech of bus brakes, the kids arrived home and I ran up the hill to meet them up to my eyeballs in gore. Oh, this self-sufficient farming is the life I tell you!

For those who want a little more information and a little less story: When you come upon a recently-deceased turkey or other fowl, you have to hang and "bleed out" the bird the best you can before attempting this sort of thing. Skinning the bird and removing the breast was relatively easy-- and we ended up with at least 3 pounds of breast meat. The legs were a bit more tricky (this is where the hacking came in) and a bit higher on the gross-awful-Ican'tbelieveI'mdoingthis scale. The meat once removed, must be cooled immediately in a tub of cold water, then can be transferred to the fridge. Cooling should continue for at least a day. Then you can freeze it or eat it. (We froze ours because, honestly, it'll be a while before I care to see THAT turkey again.)

We did waste the rest of the bird. I just couldn't figure out how to remove any other parts in a usuable way. And I was pretty grossed out by then. And the kids had arrived. And there were about a million flies around. And, well, because I couldn't do any more just then. I really couldn't.

Well, that's the whole gory story. In a way, I'm glad I had to do this on my own. It's easy-- too easy-- to leave the hardest things to my better half and if I'm gonna eat it, I really should be able to butcher it. But watch out! Those homesteading aspirations of yours might see you to hacking away at an unexpectedly deceased turkey on a lonely fly-ridden, unbearably hot afternoon.


Cheap Like Me said...

Oh my gosh. Now your kids will have a reputation!!

Christy said...

Nicely done. To me the killing will be the hardest part, if only I could be lucky enough to have all the animals drop dead for me LOL.

P said...

Nobody around here seemed phased by the turkey thing. 'Fraid maybe we already have a reputation :)

Anonymous said...

This one reminds me of tracks I have followed. One morning when I went down to feed the turkeys at dawn, I happened to frighten off the coyote raiding the turkey pen. Son-#$-%-^!@#$! So I gathered up (grunting all the way) 3 murdered turkeys into the wheelbarrow and presented myself at the kitchen door. "Start plucking," I said. And we did. All 3 of them, salvaged and stored away in the freezer. We did cut the meat off the bones, though. We just didn't have room for 3 whole bronze turkeys in there. Anyway, maybe that's how you learn to butcher!


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