It is December the 21st and I am in a room full of strangers (well, almost full and I am with my friend, E, who is awesomeness personified). In this room (almost) full of strangers are a series of trestle tables upon which are laid out a couple of hundred cadavers. No, I am not in some weird CSI nightmare, unless it is an avian massacre episode. Yes, my friends, I am in a room (almost) full of dead birds. In fact I am at a turkey auction. Happy Christmas everyone!
Christmas traditions are many, varied and some, the ones that only make sense if you know the back story, quite bizarre. Our traditions start with the letters to Father Christmas and end around the time of the Queen’s Speech with a box of After Eights at the close of our Christmas feast, not forgetting a healthy dollop of tinsel, glitter and last minute sending of Christmas cards along the way. The most macabre tradition I have ever had the good fortune to stumble across is definitely a turkey auction. About a week earlier I realised I hadn’t ordered the turkey for Christmas Dinner, had a
total meltdown minor panic, I had the in-laws coming for Christmas Day after all, then panicked in company as we are wont to do on Facebook. So, after a couple of friends suggested giving the annual turkey auction a whirl, that is how I found myself perusing two hundred dead turkeys on the Thursday before Christmas.
My wonderful friend E, despite telling me she was ‘not a bird person’ (in all honesty I am not entirely sure if anyone is ‘a bird person’ at turkey auction, but, well, you know. Oh and also E lives on a farm. And keeps chickens. So I scoffed heartily at the mere suggestion of her having even the slightest of bird phobias. However, I digress). E was at my side metaphorically holding my hand as I walked around this room of avian carnage.
To be honest once we got over the whole OMG they still have their heads and feet on, it wasn’t too bad. The smell was perfectly normal, no Vick’s under the nose required, and as the birds are plucked they didn’t really resemble birds, in the way that a skinned rabbit is not longer cute and cuddly. To be honest the relief was overwhelming when we were able to confirm that we weren’t bidding on live turkeys. Now THAT scenario would have been a whole different ball game! I learnt a few things from my trip to the turkey auction and, now I have a half eaten carcass in the fridge, I thought I’d share some of them just in case you find yourselves in a similar position.
- Don’t bid on the turkeys that are prepared and ready for the oven. These turkeys go for ridiculous money, £80/£90 for an average size turkey. And, to be honest, if you’re going to do something like this, surely you have to jump in feet and head too, yes???
- Make sure you make a note of the lot number you are interested in as well as the weight of the bird. I had a quick panic when the auctioneer began by only calling out the weight of the birds and excluded the lot numbers.
- The turkeys come from a variety of producers so don’t bid on the first couple of birds from the producer. This allows you to judge the going rate for a particular rafter (yep, collective noun for a group of turkeys, team!) and you can then adjust your expected purchase price accordingly to see whether your budget will apply.
- The cheapest birds are the biggest. In the case of turkey auctions, less is definitely more. Why? simply because the larger the turkey the less cookers it will fit into! So unless you have a Hagrid sized cooker the 10-20 pounders will be the most expensive whilst the 20-30 pounders (yes really) will be cheap as the proverbial chips.
- If the bird has the head and legs still attached then the innards will be ‘in’ too.
This latter does seem like rather a moot point but I have to admit I hadn’t really considered the reality of the fact that you can’t cook a Christmas turkey with its insides inside. So my final bit of advice is to go with a friend whose husband is a farmer, and preferably a pastoral farmer at that. E’s husband is a dairy farmer and on our jubilant departure from the auction clutching our 14 pound prize (complete with head, feet and innards) E put in the call to, perhaps belatedly, check that J was happy to gut the bird. At that precise moment, and rather appropriately, J was ‘dealing with a cow’* but was
more than happy to ‘deal with’ my turkey. Google IS an amazing source of information and surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) if you search for the best way to gut a turkey a host of videos appear and if you get past the removal of the backside, it’s pretty much plain sailing.
I’d like to say I played an active supporting role in preparing my turkey for the Christmas cooker, but it’s hard to do that when you’re stood dry retching behind the door frame. J and E were amazing, inspiring and just blimp’ brilliant. Thank you and same time next year???
I am sat writing this in the aftermath of Christmas, the detritus of wrapping paper, spent crackers and more than a pine needle or two sticking into my socks. I am counting my blessings for my small but perfectly formed family, my totally brilliant friend and my deliciously tasty, perfectly cooked Christmas turkey. Sandwich anyone?
*by which I mean, had a hand in a part of a cow a hand should never go. No not really. Maybe.