Why turkey’s off the menu this Xmas

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Like most folk, my thoughts this week turn to turkey. Gamford, the Young Master, the Young Mistress and I have just returned from watching “Free Birds”, the cartoon movie about two turkeys who travel back in time to get turkey off the Thanksgiving menu.

But it’s the Christmas turkey that’s uppermost in my mind. Not the dry-as-a-bone frozen turkey of our childhoods, just about edible whilst hot. But when it re-appeared on Boxing Day, the dreaded “leftovers”, it was like eating insoles and had their texture to boot (no pun intended).

White meat was the thing, and commercial white birds were bred by the million to have the desirable, snowy flesh.

I remember my Nana only ever eating white meat when served chicken and turkey, as if eating darker meat might mean taking second best. Recently, a friend admitted that when she was young, her mum would serve up breast meat and throw away the darker meat and the legs and wings, as if it was inferior.

Nowadays, I guess only rich and/or stupid people do this. It’s a practice that makes smallholders and folk who grew up in the war choke on their home-grown sprouts.

Then we entered the 90s, and turkey suddenly developed a wholesome image – it became free-range and bronze. Companies like Kelly had spent the 80s breeding a super-turkey, developed from the more traditional bronze bird. It free-ranged (shock) and had dark feathers and dark, gamey meat (horror). My Nana probably spins in her grave every time I eat a mouthful of delicious bronze turkey. Mind you, she also smoked about 400 Player’s Navy Cut every week, so she was probably not the best role model for healthy living.

My abiding memory of her smoking – apart from the sepia sheen to everything in her flat – was of her delicately picking the tobacco off the end of her tongue every so often, as they had no filters.

Anyhoo, I digress. Back to the birds. Wild turkeys bearing lovely dark feathers with a bronze sheen became the first table turkeys, and gave rise to golden oldies like the Norfolk black, which was almost bred into extinction to achieve the perfect white table bird.

Being labelled “bronze” in turkeys conjures up a wholesome, natural image. Just as with bread, the darker the better these days, it seems. And the taste of a free-range, bronze turkey is a world away from its intensively-farmed white cousin.

I’m afraid at Shoogly Towers we have crossed the line between “livestock” and “pets” as far as our turkeys are concerned. Sally and Queenie, the Kelly Bronze girls from three Christmases ago, escaped the cranberry sauce and were kept on as possible breeding stock, along with Lurch 2, a huge stag. Lurch 2 was no gigolo, sadly. More Rex Harrison than Harrison Ford.

Lurch 2 (delicious) was replaced by Vic, a blue slate turkey, who has proved equally useless, but is an affable chap who, on December 25, will have survived two Christmases on sheer likeability. And then there’s Cilla, the nutcase turkey who was also purchased to add to the euphemistically-titled “breeding stock”, but has given most value through her antics in her war of attrition with Gamford during the laying season.

She caused chaos in the coop by trying to ram her giant, turkey-sized self in the chooks’ nestboxes to lay her eggs, and he tried every trick in the book to stop her. Worth keeping for her cheek, which is why we will be serving up cockerel this Christmas Day.