I would never make it as a farmer’s wife…even if my life depended on it!
I’ll admit that at times I’ve been caught up in the popularity of the whole homegrown/local food movement. A classic illustration of this is the year we decided to raise our own turkey (organic, of course) and host my husband’s family for Thanksgiving dinner.
Let me start at the beginning…One day my friend called and asked if I wanted to go in with her to buy baby turkeys and raise them for Thanksgiving. I didn’t even hesitate — I was in! It was just a minor detail that we didn’t actually have a yard sufficient for raising a turkey, or any sort of experience with farm animals in general. However, as luck would have it, my friend agreed to keep my bird at her place and guide me through the intricacies of raising poultry.
So Project Turkey began. My friend would send me weekly updates and an occasional photo, and I’d send her a check to cover the food she bought at the feed store (what I soon learned was a more official name for a farm animal’s grocery store). Come to think of it, I didn’t actually do anything beyond sending a check and now feel a bit guilty about the rather one-sided arrangement.
As summer wound down and fall was upon us, my friend warned me not to let my kids name the turkey since we were going to kill it. She also expressed a bit of concern that my turkey in particular was eating a lot and seemed to be getting rather large. I didn’t think twice about the bird’s size since my in-laws are a large group — my husband is one of six kids.
The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Doomsday arrived. Our whole family had eagerly (and bizarrely) been looking forward to this day and I felt like I’d done a fine job of preparing my kids for what was to come (never mind the fact that I’d never killed a turkey, or any animal, for that matter). We all rose early in the morning and drove out to my friend’s farm, eager to pick up our turkey and head over to another neighbor’s property to do the ‘dirty work.’
It should have been a telltale sign of things to come that the turkey did not come willingly. Simply catching the bird and putting him in the massive dog crate for transport was no easy task. The bird was ginormous, running around like his head had already been cut off, feathers flying everywhere. The kids and I were no help. It was up to my husband to dive (multiple times) headfirst for the wild bird. After numerous futile attempts, the bird was finally caught and quickly shoved into the crate.
Off to the slaughterhouse we went (thinking the hard work was behind us). Oh, such naive imbeciles…we had no idea what was to come. We pulled up to the makeshift slaughter shed and opened our car doors. My oldest daughter took one step out of the car, screamed at the blood running down the driveway and under our car, and refused to move any further. My middle child was a bit hesitant, but dutifully followed her dad to the shed (no joke, with Fisher Price camera in hand). She didn’t even last two minutes. Not sure if it was the aroma of dead poultry or boiling feathers that did her in. And my youngest, well, I just left him in the car. I too felt squeamish when I saw the funnel-type contraption used to behead the bird and the big stainless steel pot for the boiling water bath to make plucking feathers all the easier. It goes without saying that the look I gave my husband let him know he’d be steering this ship on his own. The kids and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
A few hours later my husband returned with our camping cooler filled with ice and a 39 POUND TURKEY! No joke, we had to clear out almost the entire fridge, even removing shelves, to get the bird to fit inside. It was a long week of fasting really, as Thanksgiving wasn’t until the following Thursday and nobody wanted to open the fridge and be forced to look at the headless, featherless, bare-skinned turkey just to get a bite to eat. Even if you dared, your appetite was pretty much instantly gone the moment you got an eyeful. We were also at a loss for how to cook such a monstrosity. After measuring our oven with a tape measure to confirm that the bird’s dimensions would even fit inside, along with a few trips to the local butcher for guidance, I special ordered (overnight shipping, of course) a massive roasting pan.
Both my husband and I were pretty stressed out in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Our kids were still a bit traumatized, we were all avoiding the fridge (which made us hangry = hungry + angry) and our biggest concern was if a bird that size would cook completely through in our non-commercial oven. If not, I risked giving food poisoning to all of my in-laws, an incident I would never live down.
Thanksgiving Day finally arrived. I remember my husband and I woke up at 4:00 am to ensure that the turkey was finished cooking by the time dinner was scheduled. We rubbed the bird down with a special concoction of rosemary, olive oil, fresh ground pepper and whatever else that butcher had suggested. While the bird cooked, every so often there would be clouds of smoke coming from the oven as the turkey’s juices boiled over and splashed onto the bottom of the oven. We had three thermometers in the bird just to be sure he reached the right temperature for human consumption. Come dinnertime we nervously carved the big daddy and served him up. Truthfully, neither my husband nor I really enjoyed the meal, as we were just so nervous someone would get sick.
I’m proud to report that nobody got food poisoning and every member of the family went home with their fair share of turkey leftovers. I’m still a bit traumatized by the whole event and haven’t raised my own turkey, or even cooked a store-bought turkey, since that fateful Thanksgiving a few years ago (Honey Baked ham is now my go to). I’ll admit that with the whole fiasco behind us it does make for a good story. But the lesson learned is still with me to this day — Don’t try to rock the homegrown/back to nature trend if your own expertise doesn’t go beyond buying boneless and skinless chicken breasts from the local supermarket! And it probably goes without saying that you can’t put a dollar amount on the cognitive energy we spent on that dumb bird. That Thanksgiving I would have paid almost anything to have simply gone to the grocery store and purchased a reasonable-sized turkey, wrapped in plastic, innards already removed!