Thursday, December 23, 2010

Getting to Know your Christmas Turkey

Just like in most North American homes, we'll be having turkey for our Christmas feast at my place in Fortaleza this year. Christmas dinner in Brazil is an event for December 24, not Christmas Day , and the meal is served very late, often at midnight. Christmas presents are exchanged before the feast begins, and it's often 4 am before things wrap up. December 25 is a day of R&R, and if this year is like most it will find me, along with most everyone else, at the beach.

One thing will make this Christmas feast just a little different from others I've celebrated in various corners of the world, is that the centerpiece of the meal, the roast turkey, will have a known provenance and history, and perhaps even a portrait at the dining table. I personally didn't meet the turkey prior to his demise, but one of the guests at the feast knew him when he was alive and kicking, and even took some photos of him. He he is in all his turkeyish glory:

Last week this friend took a trip with his mother to the village where she grew up in the central backlands of Ceará, about 500 kms. from Fortaleza. One of the things he wanted to do while he was there was to buy a peru caipira (a free-range turkey) for Christmas dinner. Walking down a country lane near his mother's ancestral home, he heard the distinctive "gobble-gobble" of a turkey from behind a fence. Seeing that there was not only a few turkeys in the yard, but a man who appeared to be their owner, he asked if the turkeys were for sale. The fellow replied that he hadn't thought about it, but yes they probably were. A deal was soon done for the tom turkey for R$50 (USD$30), and after the obligatory photoshoot the bird was dispatched and dressed within 30 minutes. He currently resides in my freezer awaiting roasting on the 24th.

I won't, however, be popping the bird in the oven, and spending the day savoring the aroma of roasting turkey filling the house. My oven, like most Brazilian home ovens, is quite small, and the bird would be a very tight fit indeed. So on the morning of the 24th, I'll take the turkey, all prepared for roasting and sitting in his roasting pan, down the street to the bakery where I buy bread every morning. There he, and many more of his ilk, will go into the large bread baking ovens which for that one day only become turkey roasting ovens. I'll return later in the afternoon to pick him up and bring him home. The rest of the meal will be cooked here, and at midnight, we'll put the bird out on the table in all his glory.

I hope he knows we appreciate his sacrifice. It's so easy to disassociate meat on the buffet table from the animal which gave its life to provide it. I think it's an instructive lesson to have participated, even if by second-hand association, in a bit of the life and death of an animal that graces our plate. It makes me, at least, just a bit more appreciative of the food I'll be eating, and where it came from, come December 24th.

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