Monday, November 11, 2013

Turkey Butchering Prep

There is a lot of behind the scene prep that goes into a turkey harvest! First things first: Raise some great birds! We raised ours on pasture grass with plenty of protection from wild predators. They were fed organic high protein turkey rations and organic cracked corn, garden vegies, plenty of greens, melons their favorite was cantaloupe, apples, and fresh water daily. Turkeys have a voracious appetite!!
This year we raised Bourbon Red heritage turkeys that originally gained popularity in the 1930's and 1940's from Bourbon County, Kentucky. They are striking red-brown with white stripes on the wing tips and tail feathers. The other turkeys we raised this year are Chocolate turkeys. These brown turkeys came to America from the France and were quite popular until the Civil War. They are the color of milk chocolate and the purest of the breed have no mottled coloring at all, just milky brown feathers. Both breed are are making a recovery in numbers and are also part of the Slow Food Movement: Know where your food comes from and understand the connection between food on the table and the field where it grows. The turkeys hatched on May 7, 2013. Typically heritage turkeys grow much slower than a grocery store turkey and 7 months would bring them closer to full maturity. But it is close to Thanksgiving, so we used this Veteran's Day Weekend to begin the harvest. The turkeys were about 6 months old.
Clean and sanitize the kitchen before you go out to harvest. This means counters are clear, sink is scrubbed cleaned, all dishes are washed, and then use your favorite sanitizer. We use a dilluted bleach solution in the sink and let it sit for 15 minutes, then rinse clear and vinegar wipe down on the counter tops. Remember to also clear shelves in the refrigerator for storing the turkeys after butchering.
The kitchen is left ready for the birds. Have clean pans usually a broiler pan or 11 x 14 will be large enough for a turkey and will fit on the shelf for the refrigerator resting.
Meanwhile, Tim was outside making our set up for the harvest in an easy to move, one station to the next, circle. Here he is testing the temperature of the water. We use a three burner camp stove with the long legs removed and set it up on bricks. The water can on top is a 20 gallon metal garbage can used only for this purpose. The water is heated to about 160 degrees F for scalding the birds to help making plucking easier. It takes about one and a half hours to heat this mighty tank! Be sure to have a pair of heavy duty rubber "dishwashing" gloves available. We picked up a pair of purple gloves because they were the cheapest! They were worth every purple penny! The gloves allow dipping of the birds without getting scalded or splashed. Also, squeeze a big drop of dish soap into the scalding tank. By displacing surface tension, the soap helps keep oils and feathers out of the way.
Here Tim is at the "kill cones". We mounted stainless steel cones on a sturdy post for this purpose. The turkeys are hung upside down in a calming position and then they bleed out.
You can never have too many knives on butchering day. We keep the knife sharpener handy and have several pre sharpened knives ready to handle the cleaning and evisceration. Other supplies on the table: Cutting board Pans Pot for organ meat and gizzard Wash tub with dishsoap and hot water Towels for drying hands Kitchen shears Pitcher for dipping in water Cleave Kill knife (Buckmaster knife from Brother Billy) Cooking spray, recommended to spray down cones to help with clean up Meat thermometer to test water temperature Kitchen clock Ball of twine Needle nose plyers Eye glasses Water proof apron is wonderful for all involved in the butchering
We used the kitchen clock to gauge the amount time being spent on each bird and to help monitor the propane for heating the water. The twine was handy but not necessary. Also not visible is a 5 gallon bucket lined with a tall kitchen garbage bags to catch the entrails.
Our plucking station was an extension and bendable ladder with a shackle wired to the top rung. A commercial sized garbage back lines the vessel to catch the feathers at plucking. A hose with spray attachment is just out of sight here. It was used to rinse the nearly plucked turkey clean from feathers.
Finally, back to where we started the circuit view and note a back up propane tank was ready. We needed it too! Don't forget the matches or lighting torch. This can help with removing hair on the turkey skin as well as keeping the fire burning.
The whole outside set up. The turkey food was removed the night before to help clear systems and the turkeys were kept inside the barn. It took both of us to catch the turkeys and hold them. Be sure to wear leather gloves as turkeys have long sharp nails needed for scratching for bugs. Be sure to send your gratitude to the turkey for its purposeful nourishment.
One of the Bourbon Red turkeys. When holding the turkey is it important to secure the bird with one hand around both feet and then support the body. The turkeys are quite calm in this position.
In the kitchen, the turkeys were cleaned and rinsed and stored in a pan in the refrigerator to allow them to rest. This is also called aging, but allows meat to relax. We stored the turkeys covered over night.
In the morning turkeys were inspected, removed from pan and wrapped in a heavy freezer bag. The bags were ordered from a meat processing supply house. We used 18" by 30" bags. Then they were wrapped in wax lined butcher paper. The turkeys will be stored one more day in the refrigerator before going into the deep freeze.
Finish with labeling the turkeys with pound and type for reference later. Thinking about enjoying a homegrown, slow food heritage turkey for your next family celebration? Get in touch with your local farmers or better yet, grow a few for yourself!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Walnuts and Leaves

Oh, the leaves and nuts are falling in full force these days. There are 21 crates of nuts drying in the front room and easily 100 times more waiting to be picked up! The rains are coming soon though and it makes for a mucky mess especially at the back door. Clean up and pick up is underway!
Raking and picking and raking and sifting through the leaves for more nuts! It was such a pleasant afternoon we enjoyed the work and our dogs enjoyed the nuts too!
Each pile was carefully inspected for more nuts! That seems like a lot of attention for the walnuts, but time is ticking and the longer they are on the ground the more the damp foggy mornings can affect them. So we are picking and cleaning and drying as quickly as possible at this time of year.
Aaahhh, now the serious raking begins! The tractor was used to scoop and move many loads of leaves to the back pasture.
Eagerly waiting, but keeping their distance from the tractor, our goats will really enjoy the leaves. Don't worry. Goats naturally pace themselves. They graze and eat when they are hungry. When there is a new treat, they gobble up and fight over the best spot to eat, but they don't overfill.
Many more trips to move the leaves and the husks from the walnuts and the area was nearly clear of the ground cover.
At last, the work is done...well, half of the tree and ground under it is finished enough to limit the amount of debris entering the house!
There are many more trees to clear and plenty of leaves on the ground, but many, many more left to fall. It is a gorgeous time of year in Southern Oregon!
Now, back to the walnuts!! Drying, curing, bagging, cracking, cleaning, baking, chopping, eating goodness!