The extended family on my in-laws’ side lives in the woods and farmland west of Eugene, where wild turkeys are a real nuisance plentiful. Knowing this, we put game on our Christmas list, and two days after the holiday we were given a black trash bag with the body of a turkey hen inside it.
NOTE: not for the squeamish.
She was field-dressed when we got her, which means the cavity had been cleaned out, and the heart, liver and gizzard were already bagged on the side. That was a cold week in Oregon if you recall, so the turkey hung out in our trunk for two days, refrigerated by the winter world, till we could get her home.
What do you do with a turkey in that state? Well, the head and the feet come off.
You’ve also got to pluck the bird, which you do by heating a whole bunch of water, blanching the body (submerging it for about a minute), lifting the whole thing out and pulling off all the feathers.
This is wet, hot work. I wasn’t personally involved in the plucking of this turkey, but a couple years ago we helped our friends process a flock of chickens: the eviscerating and the plucking. Speaking as someone who didn’t grow up doing this, it’s a surreal, uncomfortable job. Makes you think.
Before processing, my husband thanked the turkey. King Sturdy wanted to know why. His answer was, we’ve got to be respectful. The hen didn’t choose to die, but since we’ll be eating her, we owe her this: our gratitude and our respect.
There’s something gruesome about this, but it’s not the DIY of it that’s gruesome. The fact that we did this ourselves isn’t the source of the gruesomeness. Factory farms do things much more gruesome all the time. The gruesome part is the fact that we’re omnivores. It’s that we spill blood and eat animals.
There’s something beautiful about this. I think it’s the beauty of the real. Or maybe the beauty of the relationship, the way processing an animal makes our relationship with the living world shockingly obvious.
Maybe it’s the way that making beauty from another creature’s death brings the sacrament of it to the surface. In the beauty, in the blood, it’s sacramental.
I’m not sure what’s going on here. But it puts me in a place of reverence.