by Jennifer Sartell
Well, the deed is done. Just as hard as I expected … just as hard as the year before. If you read my post from last week Thankful for Turkeys, you’ll know we were processing some of our turkeys and chickens this past weekend. The day started out cold and solemn. Our noses red from the chill, our eyes red from what the day expected of us. The faint smell of smoke drifted through the air as we boiled a large pot of water on an open fire.
Before we started, we said a few words of thankfulness, grateful for what we would take away from this experience, both psychically and emotionally. And then we set to work.
Processing animals is a strange thing. It puts me in a mind-set that is unique to only this experience. I’ve never hunted, but I can imagine it would be a similar feeling. It’s a battle between thousands of years of human existence and the inner heartstrings that make me cry when Sarah McLaughlin narrates that ASPCA commercial.
The interesting thing is that it’s so foreign. And why? How many chickens have I eaten in my lifetime? How many times have I thrown away leftovers because we were too busy that week, ate out, or forgot the chicken and dumplings were in the fridge? If I had to work this hard for every meal as I did this past weekend, I would never waste food again. It is precious! And in many ways I feel that the disconnect we have with our food is more unsettling than anything we did on Sunday.
And precious! Not only in sacrifice but in abundance! Our chickens made the ones from the grocery store look like body builders. The legs and wings were quite generous, but even on the hens, the breast meat just wasn’t as plentiful. All of the free-ranging that our chickens and turkeys do makes them “fit,” not “fat.”
Shortly after we started, some dear friends showed up unexpectedly to help. I had been gushing for weeks to any poor soul who would listen to me talk about how anxious I was about the whole thing. And they came like a welcomed relief.
After awhile, the mood lifted a bit, and a wonderful sense of community, family and accomplishing something together swept over us. I wouldn’t call it happy, but maybe satisfying, maybe human.
That night, after the sun went down, we all came in … cold, tired and hungry. We worked together and prepared the first complete meal of our harvest. Roasted chicken and turkey, mashed potatoes from our garden with cream and butter from the goats. Acorn squash with maple syrup from the maple trees out front. We toasted with a local wine made at the orchard 3 miles from our farm: “To the Turkeys!”
The turkey has a depth of flavor that I’ve never tasted in store bought. It is rich and dense and the skin roasts beautifully.
I think this year, for Thanksgiving, we will be enjoying a mix of farm-raised turkey and chicken. We processed four of our nine turkeys, leaving a tom and four hens to replenish the flock next spring. As small as our birds were, they filled up the freezer fast, and I had to section the turkeys into cuts of meat, rather than leave them whole like the traditional bird of the season.
More than once the conversation drifted to the “olden days.” How our ancestors survived, how this was “normal” not so very long ago and how hard, significant and joyous that very first Thanksgiving must have been.