Big thank you from

The life of the turkey in days gone by

The Rambler 10/01/2003

 SO Christmas has gone, further away than ever, and with it the turkey.

At one time a columnist might have made a song and a dance about turkeys but, alas, the proud bird has now been reduced to no more than one of the many items on caterers' menus.

"Will you have a wee bit of turkey dear?" addressed to a little one, is apt to evoke only a grimace.

They have never seen a flock of turkeys loose in a haggard or even a row of dead ones hanging up by the heels on the front of a butchers' shop.

All they have ever seen is a slice of white meat, offered on a plate, to many of them just a rather insipid morsel - no match for a few tasty potato chips washed down with a dollop of red sauce, or a gulp of 'Coke'.

Modern 'Ready-Steak-Cook' programmes put children on a different wavelength from their ancestors, to whom a turkey was a living thing.

A bird needing molly-coddling as a chick, to be rounded up and brought in quickly when a shower of rain threatened (the delicate wee things!).

To older folk a bird which flopped down motionless in re-action to a human foot fall, which was, to discerning breeders, a mating signal. Referred to as "a bird needing to be tramped." In other words, taken to a farm where a cock-bird was available - a stud farm of the turkey breeders' world.

Farmers who bred turkeys on a small scale did not all keep cock birds. In breeding considerations induced them to take mating birds to a neighbours farm for service.

There was once a well-known ditty about "the devil he hoisted her up on his back." The fact that many an owner of a hen turkey "hoisted her up on his back," slung from his shoulder in a hessian sack with a hole made for the bird to put her head through, never inspired a balladeer.

But that was how Mary, a love-sick hen turkey met her mate.

Rearers had their troubles. Getting a flock of turkeys roosting high up on trees down to earth, and safely housed out of reach of marauding foxes was an almost nightly conundrum in autumn, when young birds were fully grown and yielding to the natural instinct to revert to life in the wild.

Modern children, aboard their luxury school buses, have no chance to follow a slow-moving horse-drawn cart loaded with gobbling birds on the way to market.

Denied a chance to mimic the turkeys' gobble, and keep them at it till their scarlet wattles turned purple with anger ... no better devilment for bored scholars.

Turkeys are turkeys at one time, live birds with gleaming black (or white) plumage, capable of flying high and running like heck - not just sliced meat , a chef s platter!

Bring back the darling day-old four-week-old chicks needing oat meal mixed with hot water, or hot buttermilk, garnished with chopped nettles or scallions. The birds which brought in the money that the housewife depended on to cover Christmas shopping deserved to be molly-coddled and shielded from marauding foxes.

Gobble-gobble-gobble. Pass the cranberry sauce!

Ulster Star