Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Turkey: When Thanksgiving Came to Mojácar

I have always felt that it was important for children to know where their food comes from but I had never intended that their first experience to be so graphic. When we first moved here, we didn’t have all of the goodies that we have now. Most people didn’t even have a refrigerator, so food was what you brought in from the garden or had stored on a shelf. My friend Jane decided that we should celebrate thanksgiving, so we started to look around for where we could get a turkey. After weeks of searching, Chencho from the bar told us about a farmer nearby who had turkeys and that he would sell us one. We went along to put in our order. It turned out he had one old laying turkey but we said we would take it and be back the following day for it. The following day Jane, a farmer’s daughter from England, and Jessica, Amber and I all arrived in Papa’s old Seat 127, only to find that the turkey was far from cleaned and plucked. As a matter of fact it was in the middle of a tug of war between the farmer and his wife. It seemed that she didn’t want to sell the turkey because she was a good egg layer. The farmer sent her crying into the house and handed us the turkey. I was horrified. Jane calmly explained that he would have to kill it first as it was dangerous to drive with such a large bird in the car. He agreed with her logic and the horror began, right in front of my two innocent girls aged three and six. He tried to wring its neck with no luck then he stood on it but the bird kept going, all the while the girls and I were in the car, not believing what we were seeing, as Jane yelled advice to him in English. Finally Jane had had enough and picked up a rake and put the birds head on the floor and stood on the rake and with one pull the deed was done. She threw it in the back of the car and told the girls to get back there with her as they had to start while it was still warm. Soon the girls were happily plucking feathers and throwing them out the window. As you can imagine, no children’s seats were available or required back then. I was in a state of shock and horror as I drove back to the house. Once at home, Jane very professionally cleaned, gutted and dressed the turkey. The next stumbling point was the oven. Most cooking was done outside on wood stoves or in big clay bread ovens and there was no way this bird would even get through the door of our little oven. Not a problem for Jane, she took it outside and with a hammer broke its back and cut it into four, thereby fitting it in. We ended up with a great Thanksgiving, shared by many grateful friends. That is when I decided from then on I would raise my own turkeys, just as I had bought a cow because there was no fresh milk. Being a vegetarian I found the whole thing rather distasteful, and knew why I had become a vegetarian at such an early age. After having lived on farms my whole life and hand-raising or bottle-feeding most of the animals, the idea of eating them was too much for me. At the same time, all of our children have participated in the matanzas of the pig and other festivals here and felt perfectly happy eating the meat. They are all still meat eaters even though their daily diet at home was mostly vegetarian in those early days as they got meat elsewhere.
I raised six turkeys the next year in with my chickens and promised not to name them or get attached to them. I knew they were for eating. Now my problem was how. I heard about a very famous turkey farmer from England that had just moved out here so I set about finding him. Once I did, the deal was made. He would come and take care of three turkeys, leaving them oven-ready, one for him, one for us and one as a gift. The other three turkeys got to live until Christmas. The day he arrived, Baltazar the plumber was at our house vaguely fixing something when a huge Roles Royce pull into the driveway and out stepped the butcher and his in-laws. The women were dressed in fur coats and had all sorts of diamonds dripping from them and high-healed tennis shoes. That was the first time I had seen high-heeled sneakers. Baltazar was duly impressed at my butcher because he only had a Renault 4. My regal visitors didn’t look like they were a group on their way to slaughter three turkeys. I was wrong. Off came the furs and the whole family disappeared into the chicken coop. A few minutes later, without a sound from inside, they appeared carrying three clean birds. The turkey farmer told me they were some of the finest turkeys he had seen. In England he raised hundreds of thousands of them a year, but he said they were very hard to raise in England and that maybe I would like to go into business with him and turn my farm into a turkey ranch. He told us that up to about five hundred birds he could kill them one a second then he started to slow down, and the girls were equally fast at plucking while his son did the cleaning. I declined with thanks.
I still had the problem with the oven though. That is how thanksgiving came to Mojácar. The following year I had redesigned my kitchen around a huge French stainless steel double oven with eight burners. Even though there were only a few Americans living in Mojácar, we always had the house full of children, so the whole village enjoyed the new feast, up until then the only turkey anyone had ever seen came from the US Military base. Now turkeys are easy to come by, all clean and oven-ready but until just a few years ago I always raised my own, because a turkey to one of the locals meant four or five kilos and to us it meant fifteen to twenty kilos, plus I knew what my turkeys had been eating. I think it is a healthy outlook for children to understand the food chain and to realize that what they see in the supermarket, it is not what it appears, in a plastic wrap with a pop up American flag when it is cooked. That way they can make up their own minds how they feel about eating meat.

Stomp Stuffing

For a twenty lbs turkey, more or less

Three children
Three bags of dried toast
1 lg box margarine
3 onions
1 grated apple optional
2 pkgs onion soup
Basil, sage, salt and pepper to taste
Stock but not from the giblets since that is just yucky

Get three kids to stomp on bags of dried toast until they are crumbs.
Melt margarine in large wok.
Add onions, celery and seasoning until onions are clear.
Stir in bread crumbs and add liquid until moist.

Stuff bird, both cavities.
Cover turkey with butter and make a tent over it in tin foil.
Cook until legs move easily.
Remove foil and let brown.
There will be plenty of stuffing left over for a casserole and for the kids to eat like popcorn.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Two Pictures

Here are two pictures that I just found that illustrate some of the stories written below. One is of mi cortijo and Lenox with all his wives and children, together with a black dog and Tony Hawker standing in the door. The other is of the trampoline that followed me around the world and ended up here. As you can see, there were always a lot of children in our home.