We are celebrating Thanksgiving quietly this year in Eugene and are excited to spend less time on I-5 that day and more time gathered around some delicious local food with friends. This is a graphic post that shows photos from our day on Laughing Stock Farm butchering our Thanksgiving turkey. If you are strongly against eating meat or have a weak stomach when it comes to seeing blood and guts, save yourself some pain by not reading this post.
The weather cooperated with us almost the whole day last Saturday as we drove the 25-30 minutes to Laughing Stock Farm. The farmer, Paul Atkinson, invites his customers out to butcher their own birds before the holiday. It makes it easier for him handle such a condensed time frame for processing turkeys and gives us all a chance to connect with where our food came from.
Paul used to supply Alice Waters‘ restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley with pork for many, many years. He’s very thoughtful about how he raises his crops and works carefully to source animal feed as close to home as possible. Listening to him talk in our Urban Farm class the other day really made me want to explore having my own small-scale family farm. I’m not sure if that will happen, but it’s an idea I just can’t seem to shake easily.
Paul raised Bronze turkeys this year, which were beautiful birds of varying sizes. I think because they are not used for industrialized turkeys, there is a lot of variation left in the breed. We chose a small, 10-pound bird but the largest one slaughtered that day was 50-pounds! Same breed, raised in the same area with the same feed. He kept a few for breeding stock, so hopefully we’ll get the same line of birds next year.
Technically I believe you are buying a live bird, but they are willing to do the first step for you, which is the slaughtering. I’ve killed enough birds and they had such a good system down that I didn’t feel like I needed to request killing my own. So the first step for us was putting our bird into boiling water for about 2-3 minutes to loosen the feathers.
We then moved to the feathering table where we plucked the bird. We saved the longer flight feathers and put them into arrangements in vases at home. They were beautiful black and white speckled feathers.
Once the outside was de-feathered and sprayed clean, the bird went into ice water to chill. Then we moved onto the inside cleaning area, a separate location. I managed to pull the crop out of the top, then remove the organs from the bottom without puncturing the intensines – whew!
I like pulling everything out in one clean move, but something stopped me halfway: an egg! Our turkey turned out to be a girl! Just like women are born with all their eggs for life, so are poultry. We found mini eggs that looked like roe and several larger formed ones that looked like large yolks. The rare sight though was an egg fully formed with shell and all. She must have been an hour away from laying before she was slaughtered.
We kept the egg so we could make into something with the rest of our meal. We also kept the organs: heart, gizzard, kidneys and lungs. I want to make stock or gravy from those pieces. Not much of the bird then gets wasted, which is nice.
Once the bird was fully cleaned and rinsed, she went into an ice water bath for at least an hour. We poured ourselves a glass of pinot gris and walked around the farm. We fed the milk goats, watched the chickens scratch around and took in the quiet surroundings. The whose-who of local food activists and non-profit organizers were all there processing their birds. Our conversations ranged from comparing backyard chicken breeds to raising milk goats in the city.
What a fun day! We drove back home just as the rain clouds moved in. I can’t wait to make the trip again next year to harvest a turkey right from the farm for our big meal.