Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving (a story...)

"Fresh" turkey for Thanksgiving...Yum?

So the story goes like this...My friend Dave (who lives in Muskego, WI) and his wife, invited a bunch of their friends and neighbors to their home (on a 7-acre parcel) before Thanksgiving a couple years ago. They had been "raising" turkeys in a large pen in the yard and wanted to have a "Turkey Slaughter" party. Now I had never been to a "Turkey Slaughter" before, (Sure, many other types of slaughters...your basic puppies, goldfish, cats, monkeys, etc. but never a "turkey" one before) So all of us (the Fam) went out there. Now this was quite a scene to arrive upon. There were several 55 gal. drum (barrels) propped over wood fires, filled with boiling water, plastic-covered wooden tables with groups of people hunched over them pulling feathers, saw horses with shiny metal cones mounted to them, all around the immediate area...(more to come)

Nola and I stood overseeing as the rest of the Devereaux kids piled out of the car and wove their way quickly around the spectacle like sperm searching for the elusive egg, running to and fro amongst the assembled adults and paraphernalia with their mouths hanging open at the carnage. I approached Dave and was given the Cliff's Notes version of the various techniques involved in the day's "activities." The queasy bite of anxiety nibbled at my gut as I walked to the edge of his property towards the narrow strip of trees beyond and between the old farmer’s fields which had been subdivided to create these large suburban, yuppie plots of land. Acreage that had once stood resolute and proudly gave of itself for the noble purposes of food production had now been reduced to hosting 3000 square foot dwellings for those of means, attempting to escape life in the City, while remaining close enough to ply their trades in, and to glean their livings from. (Oh, and some of us are forced to actually live IN the City, but wish they did not have to; but that's another story, for yet another day)

Dave (God bless him) had told me that the "fun" started when I had tracked down a (previously released) bird, captured it with the aid of a fisherman's landing net, and brought it back to the killing fields for processing. Having forsaken the net (I was after all a Northwoods boy) for the "sport" of a purely hand-on experience, I made my way towards the gaggle (or was it "flock?") of hysterically frightened and fleeing black-feathered turkeys. (More to come...)

Wading through the tall grass near the woods, I attempted to "corner" the low-intellect birds by walking crouched over, arms spread wide as I approached. This seemed to work however a few of the gathered managed to run the gauntlet of my encroaching sweep by taking flight, up and over the others into the adjacent field. Lucky for them, at least as far as my impromptu round-up was concerned. I zeroed in on a large hen that looked tasty and bulled my way forward into the bramble and sticks that littered the wooded section of the property. My breath circled around my head as lunging forward with my gloved hands, I came up with not one, but two of the glassy-eyed fowl, grasping them by the legs. The flapping of their wings unleashed a swirling cloud of loose feathers and served to fan the air as if I had grasped a tornado...

There seemed to be no practical way to keep and hold two turkeys simultaneously, so quickly "weighing" the two struggling captives while being bludgeoned with their escape attempts, I chose my victim by allowing the other to think it had outsmarted its predator, releasing my right hand's grip on its powerful legs. The "other" remained firmly in my left hand as I successfully returned from my walk to the preparation area. The kids looked on in wonder as their father (great gloved "bare-handed" hunter) paused briefly for a photo. "Now what?" I enquired of Dave. "Put it head down, in the cone." he replied. As the bird was conveniently in that position, I dutifully did as I was instructed and the turkey slipped effortlessly into place with a whoosh. The cone was fashioned from a clean new piece of sheet metal bent into an inverted cone shape with a top opening of about 14" and a lower funnel "spout" of about 3". Now, the only thing that was able to move was the head, and it undulated back and forth like a terrified serpent from the open end of the metal.

Removing my gloves, knowing what I had to do next and not wanting to think about it for very long, I looked for and grasped a wooden-handled Chicago Cutlery chef's knife and knelt to the ground next to the cone's narrow end. I planned to grab the colorful head with one hand and deftly slice through the feathered neck as quickly as possible. What I did not plan on were two things; that the neck vertebrae would prove a bit of an obstacle and that my children would have gathered around to watch. In hindsight, I should have chosen a large scissor-style brush pruner and did the deed with a brief closing of the jaws, but I was a "man" after all, and I had captured my prey and was going to "show" that I could handle such a simple task as if nothing could faze me.

Bare left hand on the warm leathery neck and right hand pulling the blade across the throat, blood spewing forth into a cardboard box below as I did so, the less than razor-sharp knife encountered resistance. Determined to finish this gruesome demonstration of machismo, I hurriedly began to saw violently and tug the blade across and upward. At this point my bare right hand was lacerated against the bottom edge of the cone, adding to the blood that pooled in the catch pan. Rather than admit I had done such a stupid thing, I finished removing the hen's body from its head and quickly relocated my glove, pulling it over the gash wound. My wide-eyed kids began screaming and ran away into the tall grass as if their father was a mass murderer and they were his next victims.

Pulling the dripping headless bird from the cone with my bleeding gloved hand, I walked it over to the 55 gallon drum filled with boiling water and held it in for a count of 60 (seconds). The soggy steaming fowl was then put upon a wooden table and stripped of all its feathers by hand. Gloves were definitely worn for this task. The bird was re-dipped into the boiling water two more times to get those tougher "peepcha" feathers (That's Polish for "pin"). The moment I pulled the feathers from the breast area I became concerned about a large "sore" spot that displayed itself on the skin beneath the (now removed) feathers. It basically looked like a 50-cent piece sized open wound. It was black and red and oozing stuff. Oh crap... Upon closer examination, the area actually had a (pardon the pun) foul odor as well. My Brother in Law Alan (ex-farm boy) was there and assisting me that day (as well as collecting his own bird…Uh-hmmm...he used a net to fetch his bird) and explained to me that this was a pressure sore from the yard bird resting in its own droppings for whatever reason and an infection had developed causing the fecal matter (are you getting queasy yet?) to fester under the skin. Well, by now the taste of "fresh" turkey began to sour in my mind as I did the "finishing activities" by gutting the thing and rinsing it with copious amounts of water against hope that the smell (and most likely actual taste) would not be as unpleasant as it seemed that it would be. (Perhaps I should have "brined" the thing in bleach?)

Basically the turkey was graciously accepted, bagged and taken home where it was unceremoniously placed in the alleyway dumpster...we bought a frozen replacement from the store...never again to slaughter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Back to Door County

Door County Wisconsin (Fall)

Camping with the family in Peninsula State Park this late in the season was a first for the Devereauxs. Fortunately for us, the weather basically cooperated with cool but tolerable temperatures. When you get that close to a Great Lake like Lake Michigan, you can pretty much figure that all weather bets are off. The sky on the first night we arrived was crystal clear, providing us with an unlimited panorama of celestial beauty. Add to that the new moon, and the constellations stood out like a pimple on the nose of a prom date; shiny, prominent, and unforgettable.

The cool night air was kept at bay due to the reliable propane pop-up camper furnace. With the sun rising over the shimmering blue-gray water, many small shapes bobbed on the waves. Among the more familiar floating Mallards, Canada geese and Ring-billed gulls were other smaller diving birds with prominent white patches on their heads. The strikingly contrasted, yet diminutive ducks dove and re-emerged over and over while my wife and I watched. Dozens and dozens in small flocks moved over the water looking for bits of food beneath the surface. The birds turned out to be Buffleheads. Pairs of male and females darted amongst the other ducks and geese along with a few dozen female Common Mergansers. Birding in general was great, with about 50% of the leaves having fallen to the ground. A Pileated woodpecker, knocking its beak on a dead birch was located by following the sound it made. Bark was falling to the ground beneath it as the excavation continued unabated even though we paused beneath the tree to observe. It is the actual "observance" of the animal doing what it does naturally, that I enjoy the most. A total of 22 species were logged over the next 24-hours as I pedaled my way some 10 miles along the many roads and trails available to Peninsula visitors, and I never even got my feet wet. Add to the experience the aromatic waftings of a smoking wood fire and a cold (adult) beverage of your choice and you have a wonderful, relaxing weekend worth repeating.