Saturday, December 27, 2014

A turkey is for Christmas, not for life. ( A Cautionaly Tale)

Ever since we started farming we have  been involved with poultry, quail, ducks, geese and of course chickens, but any mumblings from me that we should grow our own Christmas dinner were quickly silenced by Simon. He had experience with turkeys , his holiday job whilst at uni. he would work at a local poultry farm in Devon each year.
 His objections were clear, turkeys require a lot of grazing land,  well drained soil, with a  large warm vermin proof  shelter, free from any drafts and free from any unusual sudden noise. and they don't do rain. Turkeys drop dead for no apparent reason, turkeys scare easily, turkeys regularly huddle and suffocate, and turkeys should never be kept with chickens due to black head disease which chickens can be a carrier of , fatal for turkeys but not often so for chickens. I'm sure he put forward other reasons as well,  he  just did not want to keep turkeys.
This was an on-going discussion. Our first farm was in  Anglesea, Wales, we had good free draining land, we had a good barn but we also had a lot of rain. Then we moved to our first farm in Ireland, bad land, anything but free draining, even I could see it was a none starter.
 At the second farm we were far too busy to contemplate giving time to such fragile creatures although the land was good, plenty of it and good barns, there was just not enough hours in the day, but we kept geese and raised them for the Christmas market, geese, proving you have enough of them and enough land pretty much look after themselves.
The first farm in Spain would have been ideal weather wise, but no barns and once again we were too busy building our house to take on more live stock.
Then came the move to Galicia in NW Spain, good land, plenty of it, free draining, and lots of big barns. Simon finally agreed, we would get two turkey poults to raise, one for Christmas and one for Easter.
Now, as any small holder knows, or should know, you don't give names to animals that you intend to eat, it makes it far too personal, rather like eating a friend.
We picked up the poults, clearly one was male and one female, they were quite different from each other. They were installed in the big hayshed barn, warm, dry, away from wind, noise and all the other things that you have to protect them from. They had access to range in a secure run.
They didn't move, they were happy to just sit, giving reassuring gobbles to each other from time to time, they didn't panic when I went in to feed and water them, but they did not move.
 This continued for a week or so, by then I had grown quite fond of them, ( mistake) they would gobble their thanks for their food, but still had no interest in moving. I would sit out with them, stroking them, they would gobble their appreciation. Time to get them on their legs and moving, I picked up the smaller of the two, placing her on my lap, stroking her, reassuring her and then the second mistake, naming her. She was named Jessie,and he was called Andy,  they responded to their names and quickly learnt that I was the barer of food, the food bowl was placed further and further away from their warm comfortable nest, after two weeks they would gallop to the food bowl which by now had been placed in the run. After a month or so it was time for them to go 'Free Range'. Their favourite spot was in our secret garden, this was supposed to be an animal free zone, no dogs, no cats and certainly no poultry, turkeys although quite big can fly, each day when we took our lunch out to the secret garden to eat by the pond we would be greeted by two waiting turkeys. They sat at our feet, purring and blushing, yes, turkeys do both.
They were the most enchanting  poultry we have ever kept.
 Would we ever consider keeping them again? Only if we want two pet turkeys wandering around  and we don't.
 So we are quite happy to leave turkey rearing to people who don't form a friendship with them.
 What became of them? Jessie had a heart attack for no apparent reason, Andy never got over the loss of his mate and died from a broken heart a month later.

During our time in Spain we came across several dishes which became firm favourites with us. Amongst them are Ensaladilla, Tortilla, and a spinach dish with pine nuts and  béchamel sauce.
 Every area will have their own versions of the dishes.
Ensaladilla is a deluxe version of potato salad. Quantities depend on whether you want it as a starter  or a side dish , the quantities given below are for a side dish.

1 med. peeled and boiled potato , half a carrot peeled and boiled per person.
1 desert spoon of finely chopped up onion per person.
1 hard boiled egg per person chopped up, (egg slices to garnish, optional)
Desert spoon per person of thinly sliced and diced  green and red sweet peppers, lightly roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and black pepper.
Small handful of good olives, chopped up small.
When the potatoes and carrots are cold, chop in to small squares add all the other ingredients, season well with salt and black pepper add good mayonnaise so it coats all the ingredients but doesn't make the dish sloppy, mix well, garnish with sliced egg and parsley,  serve.
If you are not a vegetarian you can add some GOOD tinned tuna, don't waste your money on the cheapo stuff.
This dish goes well with green salad, cold meats or a slab of cheese.
Everything is ready, it looks quite festive.

The St. Stephan's day meal went well,  a starter of Irish Organic Smoked salmon, avocado's with herby goats cheese topped with caviar.
 The main course was the inevitable cold turkey , cold rib of beef, home made coleslaw, ensaladilla, hit the ceiling  freshly made horseradish sauce, ( it sure clears the head) plus homemade chutneys, and the old Christmas favourite, very alcoholic sherry trifle. Although one of our guests had previously stated that he did not like turkey he certainly like ours, and did the beast justice. We won't be needing to think up new recipes of how to use up turkey a week on. Every one enjoyed their selves, even the cook.
I'm over half way through 'Everything I want to do Is Illegal'.
Santa was very good to me this year, he knows my taste in reading, OK the two year subscription to Permaculture magazine was from Simon and the Naomi Klein book was from my sister-in law, many thanks Mary, and thank you Santa.
It tried to snow.
As the year draws to a close the weather is getting chilly, we had a very light scattering of snow yesterday, today has been sleety and for the most part dull but we were rewarded with
Sunset in December.
the most beautiful sunset this evening.
Hope you are all recovering from the last couple of days festivities and that you are all keeping warm or cool depending what part of the world you are in.


  1. Oh I loved Jessie and Andy! Lovely memories of Andy stealing my Marmite sandwich and Jessie looking after the abandoned chicks. The dinner sounds delicious, I like the sound of that horseradish!

    1. I had forgotten that you knew Andy and Jessie, time flies. We will let you make horseradish sauce when you come in the summer, like the old saying, no pain, no gain!

  2. Apparently turkeys being too personable to kill is relatively common. I didn´t realise they don´t like rain. Oh well.

    Dinner sounds delightful. Hope you´re having a fabulous holiday. Happy 2015!

    1. Maybe you could go for geese Coco.
      Have you finished moving in yet, did you get to have Christmas in Galicia or in Madrid? look forward to reading your update, hope you are not too stressed.

  3. Phewee! Thank you for the info Anne. Think that maybe a rethink is called for. We would find it difficult to keep the turkeys separate from the chickens, and we don't have any large outbuildings, and the ground can get a bit squidgy and..................... As you suggest, Geese are an option.
    Your food as always, looks and reads to be superb.
    I always make lots of chutney, but have never, crone that I am, made horseradish sauce, though we like it. In fact we even prefer it to tartar with some fish.

  4. I have made chutney for years but there was one that Simons mum always made that I never had, he often used to talk about this chutney, 'Old Dower House' .This year I found a recipe for it that he said was the same as his mums so I made it, I can safely say it was everything he said it was, I will now only be making this chutney in future.
    I also like horseradish with some fish, it is particularly good with trout and almonds. We had a meal a few years ago at River Cottage, H.F.W's place, very disappointing except the horseradish! When we moved here I got a root from a friend, it has taken three years to establish but well worth the wait.
    Alternative for capers in tartar sauce you can use the seed pods of nasturtiums, works just as well and you can pickle them .

  5. Thanks for all the turkey info. Like Irene, our problem would be to keep turkeys and chickens separate, but they could certainly find plenty of grazing. Rain could be our other issue. Ah well. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.

    1. I can just see turkeys at your place walking around in wellies, mac's and umbrellas.

  6. Oh my, i really dont like turkeys so no hope of them here. I do however like to eat them. Your meal really sounds fab and i could imagine myself at your table with friends, talking and laughing for hours over great food. I will try that recipe but i will have to substitute the potato for sweet potato. I got Gray Mountain as well. Im on my fourth book since Christmas. Such a lovely staycation im having at home.

  7. I think sweet potato would be too strong a flavour Lynda, I have just looked up carbohydrate content of various roots in fact sweet potato contains more than potatoes. A good substitute would be raw cauliflower, it would add a lovey crunch and slightly nutty flavour. I often used raw cauliflower in a green salad to add texture.

  8. I agree that sp is a high carb, it so sweet but it has very high nutritional value and it is low on Glucose Index. It can be an occasional food. Im going to try grated cauliflower instead of rice.

  9. Thank you for your lovely comment! thank you for your lovely comment, love the photo of the sunset

    1. Thanks Bedford Gypsy, I look forward to reading more about your composting loo.

  10. Happy New Year
    YOur Turkey story was wonderful. I have always wanted a few but don't really have the room. The twice baked jacketed potatoes is something I want to try. Thanks for the recipe. We are having snow, sleet and all the trees are covered in ice. The temps to rise in the high 40's later in the day then back to the deep freeze tomorrow Hope youare having better weather. My best to you both

    1. You must also try the ensaladilla Carole. We were supposed to have heavy frost last night but it didn't happen thankfully.
      Could you tame any of the turkeys that roam free in your neighbourhood? I must admit when you post photos of them I always think 'Dinner', you have never said but I get the impression that you are in fact vegetarian so I guess catching a wild one would not be on for you!
      Happy new year to you and the cats, I hope the vet can help with the LLama.