By Dennis Klimko
When you’re in the turkey business, late fall is the busiest time of the year. My daughter Erin’s friend owns a turkey farm and every year at this time she helps with the harvest. Last year, grandson Emmett was 11 years old and asked if he could come along. Farmer Harold said yes, but he would put Emmett to work.
They arrived at 6 a.m. and Farmer Harold says, “Emmett, we’re doing chickens this morning. Head out to the coop, pick out two birds, grab them by the legs, turn them upside down and bring them back to the to the barn.” And that is just what he did.
Farmer Harold had a sharp knife in one hand, and with the other hand, reached through the bottom of a wall-mounted funnel and grabbed one of Emmett’s birds by the neck. He pulled the bird into the funnel and, in Emmett’s words, “did the deed.” The head was put in one bucket, the feet in another. The innards were removed from the carcass, the neck, heart, liver and gizzard set aside, and the rest of the guts scooped into another bucket.
Later that morning the processing switched to turkeys. My grandson was both curious about and fascinated with the process, but was sad to learn of the turkeys’ fate. Farmer Harold helped ease the pain by pointing out that during its whole life the turkey has only one “bad” day.
Thanksgiving at our house is a traditional but modest affair with my daughter and her family, great-grandmas Helen and Genevieve and brother-in-law Jim. In addition to meal preparation, the morning and afternoon pre-dinner activities can include running the Turkey Trot, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and/or baking a birthday cake for grandpa (my birthday is the 22nd and will fall on Thanksgiving Day next year).
But later that evening, over Thanksgiving dinner, Emmett will tell the family the story of his turkey farm adventure as only an 11-year-old boy can.
“The turkey carcass is soaked in warm water then placed in a machine that removes the feathers with a bunch of rubber fingers. Farmer Harold then hands me a pair of pliers and a naked turkey and tells me to remove the quills that the machine failed to find.”
Emmett continues his story. “After the innards are removed, the neck is placed in the empty cavity of the carcass along with a small bag containing the bird’s heart, liver and gizzard.”
His 14-year-old sister, Sophie, suddenly awakens from her iPhone-induced stupor to ask the magic question. “Why do they put the heart, liver and gizzard in a little bag?”
After passing the mashed potatoes and gravy, Grandma says, “Why, you chop them up and sauté them in butter with some celery, mushrooms, salt and pepper. You then mix them with bread cubes to make stuffing.”
The silence is deafening. Sophie tentatively replies, “You’re punkin’ me, Grandma.”
Another pregnant pause follows. Grandma enthusiastically explains, “My mother taught me how to make stuffing and her mother taught her. Our family has been making stuffing this way for over 100 years!” Another silence ensues.
The green bean casserole makes its way slowly around the table and Sophie takes a double helping as the stuffing passes her by. “Is this the same stuffing you made last year Grandma?” she asks. “Why yes dear! Isn’t it delicious?”
And so another noteworthy family gathering becomes a fond memory.
Happy Holidays everyone, and please pass the stuffing.