We'll be off to buy a Christmas turkey before long. Apparently at one time a turkey was a species of guinea-fowl, eaten in Turkey (although not a native bird of Turkey) during the days of the Ottoman Empire. For some reason the word was transferred to our present-day birds which looked vaguely similar but are, of course, from North America. Chris and I rarely eat turkey outside of Christmas but nowadays chickens, derived from a species of Indian Jungle Fowl, Gallus gallus, appear regularly in our diet and that of most people.
During my childhood turkeys were something of a novelty; a chicken was a luxury and was the bird for the Christmas lunch. It would arrive having been freshly killed and I was always allowed to pluck the bird of its feathers - an operation to perform with care lest stray feathers turned up days later in odd places. I would also watch, in morbid fascination, as Dad disembowelled the chicken - always referred to simply as a fowl - not put off by the rather smelly nature of the operation. Not all the viscera would be discarded; the heart and the liver were usually retained.
Often we would go to my maternal grandmother's for Christmas lunch. I frequently refer to her in my blogs, probably because I spent quite a lot of time with her when I was at an impressionable age. One Christmas lunch was especially memorable because, as we tucked into the fowl, we noticed something rather odd: there were half-digested grains of wheat in our food.
'Mum,' wailed my mother, 'You've left the crop in the bird!'
'It wun 'urt yer,' insisted Gran. 'You'll et a peck o' dirt before you die.'
Seventy years later and our poultry comes ready prepared and yet I still hear of people who have roasted a bird and then found that the little packet of giblets had been overlooked, sometimes not noticed until the outer meat has been stripped away.
Christmas dinners were a great occasion although today the fare on offer would be seen as very limited. The wishbone would be pulled with great ceremony and there were a predictable gale of laughter when reference was made to the 'parson's nose'. I would join in the laughter as a child but without understanding the reference. For readers unfamiliar with the term, the 'parson's nose' is the small nose-like lump of tissue from which the tail feathers grow. This 'nose' is just above the bird's arse, much as a parson's nose is just above his...er... mouth. We were an irreverent lot - but families and neighbours were generally very caring, without the need for religion and threats of eternal damnation to coerce us into helping others.