[L]ast week I met my Christmas dinner, specifically the very turkey destined for our Christmas table. In fact, it was such a wonderful experience, that I posted a light-hearted phone snap of the turkeys surrounding me on Facebook and almost immediately it was reported as containing ‘graphic violence’. Let’s be clear, these turkeys were not only alive, they were happy, organic free range turkeys, in a field. It really made me realise how far removed we can sometimes be from the route to table our meat takes.
As Thanksgiving has just been and gone in the US, my social media feeds have been bursting with golden roasted birds and glazed hams, but I’m pretty sure no-one finds those kind of images offensive. I thought long and hard about whether I should simply remove my picture, but in the end I decided not to. I’m happy I took the image and I’m proud not only to have met that happy flock of birds, but also to have seen how carefully they were slaughtered, dressed and hung.
And so to talking turkey. Just a couple of miles up the road from me, here in Cornwall, is South Torfrey Farm, owned by Simon and Debbie Andrews who are friends of mine. They’ve been farming turkeys there for nearly twenty years. Raising their organic flock just for Christmas is actually a year-round affair, because they also grow everything they feed their birds, right there on the farm.
They receive their batch of day-old chicks in May and don’t slaughter them until the middle of December, when they are hung for just under two weeks to break down the muscle fibres and tenderize the meat. When you consider that a commercial bird, raised intensively indoors, can be ready in just twelve weeks, it’s not hard to understand what makes slow-growing organic birds so special.
The South Torfrey turkeys are Kelly Blacks – a cross between two ancient breeds (the Norfolk Black and the Keely Bronze) which both can be traced back several hundred years. They are known for their high breast bone, beautiful black irridescent feathers and startling red and blue wattles. Compared to a commercial bird, the meat is fine-grained with a slightly gamey flavour, which tastes a little like pheasant. Goodness, they are strange-looking. Simon, the farmer, thinks they’d make great extras in an episode of Doctor Who and I can see what he means.
They aren’t shy around people at all. As we came over the hill into the fields where they live, they weren’t in view, but in under a minute, we were surrounded on all sides. Side note: I got so carried away photographing them, that I crouched down and within seconds two of them were on my back. I’m embarrassed to say that I let out a girly scream, which Simon heard back all the way back at the barn. And I fell over in the mud like a proper townie (but saved the camera of course.)
The turkeys range over several acres, with a stunning view across the River Fowey estuary and they forage for food naturally all day long as well as eating the organic oats and wheat grown on the farm. Basically, this is as good as it gets, if you’re a turkey.
On the day I visited, it was in fact their very last day and as I finished up, the first birds were being slaughtered. They are killed one by one, out of sight of the others, very quickly and then plucked and dressed by hand. As a meat eater, It wasn’t distressing to watch. In fact, it was reassuring to see how much care and attention was paid to that part of the process. Could I do it myself? Maybe. Do I feel better for seeing it? Most definitely yes.
Wherever you buy your Christmas poultry this year, it’s worth doing a little research first. If you can’t afford an organic bird, at least consider splashing out on something free-range for this once-a-year occasion. We’ll be sharing a few turkey leftover ideas soon and we’d love to hear yours.
If you’re in Cornwall and fancy a South Torfrey turkey, there are a few left and you can get 10% off your bird by calling 01726 833126 and quoting LIFE ON A PLATE. They deliver to some farm shops and outlets in Cornwall and of course you can collect your bird too. And if you fancy a break in Cornwall, South Torfrey Farm is home to some wonderful holiday cottages which you can check out right here.