Mr. Turkey

Hello, Friends! Did you know whole turkeys aren’t sold in France until December 15th? If you go to the supermarket or the butcher, you can buy turkey parts, but not whole turkeys. Because whole turkeys are only cooked up at Christmas time. Period.

But. We didn’t realize this until Monday of last week. And we needed to cook a turkey on Thursday morning. And the butchers aren’t open on Mondays. So. On Tuesday we visited every butcher in town, crossing our fingers one might have access to a whole turkey. Nope, nope and nope. At the 4th place, the butcher was in a really helpful mood. When Ben Blair explained about American Thanksgiving, he nodded and said he’d call a farmer and then let us know. We went on with our errands and the butcher called a few minutes later.

“Yes,” he said.” The farmer has a turkey. You can pick it up on Thursday morning at 10:30.” So we did. At the pick up, Mr. Turkey was waiting with his head and claws still intact. That’s how whole birds are sold here. There was no pop-up thermometer, no plastic cords holding the feet together and no innards wrapped up in paper waiting in the body cavity. It had never been frozen, and in fact, had been alive the day before.

I’m still not sure why we were so struck by this but we were. The turkey had been killed and prepared specifically for our family. If we hadn’t requested it, Mr. Turkey would still be alive. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so connected with a meal before. How about you? What’s the closest connection you’ve had to meat you’ve eaten? Any farmers or hunters in your family?

Our neighbor, Madame Lucienne keeps chickens on her little farm. A few weeks ago she added several turkeys to the mix (I shot these photos through our back window). Now that I think about it, I suppose we could have just bought a turkey from Madame Lucienne. Maybe for Christmas…

So that’s our turkey adventure. I hope you enjoyed it! And now, I need you to prepare yourselves, because the 2011 Design Mom Holiday Giveaway Week starts TODAY!

Watch for it.

P.S. — Mr. Turkey was small (about 6 lbs) and delicious. We ate every bit of meat and made stock from the bones. I hope we were properly thankful for our feast.

54 thoughts on “Mr. Turkey”

  1. We were once swimming at my friends’ farm. We passed the field where there had been piglets a few weeks before, and we couldn’t see them so we all started going: “here piggy piggy piggy!!”. It was at that point we realised we’d just eaten them (or at least their bacon) for breakfast…. X

      1. I loved Picard when I lived in Manosque, Fr. My 2 favorite things- lentil salad & their cookbook. I later gave the cookbook away to my American French teacher :(.

  2. This was the first year (out of 5) I’ve been able to find a fresh turkey here in the UK…for the last four years I’ve used a frozen one (not necessarily easy to find, but available, at least). But then, this year I also had no trouble finding canned pumpkin, which has been difficult previously…the supermarkets must be catching on to the significant number of Americans in my area!

  3. I find the differences in our countries so interesting. Thanks for sharing! I have never felt a connection to my turkey as mine is always frozen. Someday I hope to try a fresh, heritage turkey.

  4. I’m surprised…we just ordered one a week before from our usual volailler at the market… And they prepared it for us, just like if you bought a chicken or duck or what have you.

    It is, however, ridiculously expensive.

    I’m learning to appreciate the varieties of birds more readily available: chapon, pintade (the best!), and I saw the most beautiful pheasant last week. YUM

    1. The needing to order ahead of time threw us off, because of course in the States, you can buy a whole turkey at the grocery store, in stock, any time of year. Now we know to plan ahead! : )

  5. This year, for the first time ever, we also got a fresh turkey. When they delivered the bird they told us that it had been killed at 10:00 that morning! I too was so struck by this very real turkey (somehow the frozen ones don’t look so very real) and felt a duty to make it the best ever! It wasn’t hard- it was the best turkey I’ve ever had!

  6. This made me laugh. When I lived in Paris going to university we decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner – right between the dates for Canadian and US thanksgiving. We got a turkey that we ordered ahead (I was used to that b/c of living in Switzerland), but it was given to us with the neck etc. still on. We didn’t have a mallet or good enough knife to get the neck off, so we hid it under the bird body…nobody noticed ;)

  7. Hi Design Mom!

    Glad you were able to find a turkey! Must be a regional thing because we were always able to buy turkeys for Thanksgiving in Toulouse (or big city thing?).

    Anyhow, I can relate to feeling so connected to a meal. In 2010 we bought a whole pig from a farmer. My husband and in-laws were present on the day of the slaughter and spent the weekend alongside the farmer preparing the pig into cut pieces (and patés) that kept our family fed for many months!


  8. Well, we don’t eat meat anymore, so it’s not much of an issue. But we grow our own veggies in the summertime, so that helps us feel connected to our food in general. And I make bread and basically anything else baked.

    Once upon a time, though, I did kill and skin and prepare the skin of an animal. Once was enough! (Didn’t eat it, though, it wasn’t that sort of animal.)

  9. My husband is a hunter, so we’re REALLY close to the meat we eat. We have turkeys on our property and will probably dine on one of them once turkey season opens. By the way, have you ever seen them sleep at night? They really do sleep in trees! Its the strangest thing to see.

  10. Your turkey tale made me laugh. We are farmers and do eat our own beef and lamb,( but not the orphan lambs that I bottle fed). The children are very laid back about it and all the other realities of farming life and death.

  11. What an interesting story! I continue to enjoy your stories of life in France. Thanks for sharing! Do the kids have any unusual perspective on the differences, or are they taking them in stride?

    My husband hunts (birds) and fishes so we have fresh fish and game through the year. I didn’t know until after we were married that people eat crane – he brought some home and I was really surprised. It’s tasty, too!

  12. ah, this post brought back some pretty comical memories. Meat in France (and Europe in general) is just sold the same way it is in the US. We were lucky to find a whole turkey in the grocery store (Auchan) while living in Lux, but we were totally unprepared for what was waiting for us under the cellophane :) Here is my turkey post from a few years ago.

    How did you clean the turkey and prepare it for roasting? Who was the butcher? You or BB?

  13. Last year we raised and butchered our own turkeys. Let me tell you, that was quite an experience! The turkeys were very sweet creatures (unlike some of the horror stories we had heard). They cleaned up the garden and swarmed the children in a playful way.

    However, butchering them was ridiculously difficult. The toms were gallant and protected the hens as we approached each one to take it the garage to be killed. Then there was their weight and determination to deal with — if you don’t hold them tightly enough their wings flap so powerfully they could break a nose or take out an eye! Hand plucking feathers is tedious and very difficult, even for a strong man’s hands.

    I will say, in the end it is so worth it as the flavor is divine. Did yours roast up faster too? We were surprised that it seemed to take half the time we anticipated despite being so large. Yes, a fresh turkey is something to be thankful for indeed.

    Thank you for sharing, Gabrielle.

  14. what an unforgettable moment/meal!

    i grew up in texas and my husband grew up in massachusetts, and regardless of how rural his town was, my relatives still see him as a city boy. his first several visits to texas involved game meats, fresh caught fish, and stories of how they were conquered. luckily he was not to be intimidated! and game meat has a unique taste that tells you you’re eating something different- dare i say special. there is certainly a connection there.

    back to the intimidating stories…the most impressive of them involved my dad (of course, right?), a hog that filled every square inch of the bed of a truck, an open field across from my childhood home and a sledgehammer. Ack!

    Hope I’m not grossing anyone out. It wasn’t until college that I realized what a sensitive topic this can be. I can say that although they use the stories to intimidate future son-in-laws, they do not hunt for the pure sport of it.

  15. I have farmers on both sides — my mom’s parents raised hogs and my dad’s parents raised cattle, and now I have a smattering of farmers across my uncles and cousins. My brother started farming cattle a few years ago and usually butchers one or two steers for his own consumption every year. My brother hates turkey, and he and my sister-in-law hosted Thanksgiving this year, so instead of turkey we had prime rib from his own cattle . . . I guess it’s nice in that we pretty much know what conditions our meat was raised in. :P

    (Though based on my mom’s stories of having to help her mom slaughter chickens, I was always glad that part of meat production was not part of my childhood. . . )

  16. what a really wonderful experience! I think knowing where your food comes from makes you appreciate it much more and you are more likely to not waste any of it. Plus, you don’t have to worry about where on earth it has been! Have you read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver? So fabulous, she talks extensively about this- being connected with your food!

  17. I think it’s so great you did this (well – poor turkey – but better to be connected to our food, I think!). We ordered a side of cow from Vermont Natural Beef this year because we wanted the health benefits of a grass-fed cow. The meat arrived only partially frozen because it had just been killed and packed two days before delivery. It’s the best meat we’ve ever had and I can just walk out to my freezer and pick any cut of meat I want (no going to the grocery store). And no antibiotics, GMO’s from corn feed, or anything like that!

  18. I hunt, as well as my husband – so we understand the process, and have started taking the kids as well. I knew things would go well when the then-3-year-old couldn’t be kept away from the deer carcass and we taking care of business – “No, Reed, don’t poke the eyeball. Reed, quit touching the tongue!”

  19. When I was small my Dad worked weekends at a local farm. We kept a cow there, Patches. We loved to visit him, but then one week he was gone and my parents broke the terrible news. I remember my little sister crying.

  20. You have me barreling in laughter over here!! That is about the best Thanksgiving story I have ever heard!!! Thank you for the chuckle on what is a pretty rainy, gloomy day here in Weaverville, North Carolina, USA!

  21. It sounds like an unforgettable Thanksgiving! I would probably still be shuddering if I had gotten a turkey with its head and claws still attached. But, then, I shudder when having to fix a turkey that we buy at the grocery store!

  22. How fascinating! So glad you found Mr. Tom!

    Growing up in a family of farmers, I’ve been up-close-and-personal with my food rather often. I firmly believe everyone should have the experience at least once.

  23. it was probably good that you had such a connection with the turkey. I’ve just finished reading Animal vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and she was telling people to buy heirloom turkeys because 98% of turkeys bought in the US are of the one variety, that if not killed would not be able to stand up on its own, have lost the ability to mate/procreate and all these other gross things!

    we have many americans in our ward here in australia so I got to participate in thanksgiving dinner! was delish! all the sweet potato dishes freaked people out with their marshmallow and brown sugar crumble toppings lol (i suppose we arent used to sweet with our dinners – but I LOVED IT!)

  24. The closest live-to table thing I’ve eaten recently was this mornings breakfast. We had tenderloin from the deer my husband shot on Friday morning.

    I am thankful that my meat (except chicken which is purchased at the store) has a short process from live to table. I know where it has been and my kids know where their meat really comes from.

  25. Wow, 6 lbs. That’s small, but hopefully you had enough side dishes? We had 12 people at our house and a 25 lb turkey! There were leftovers for everyone though. Sounds like there was pie leftover, so no one went away hungry! Hope you had a wonderful day, I’m hearing that there are lots of lights going up in Alencon and can’t wait to see pictures!

  26. I think that sounds like a great way to celebrate the holiday. Nothing encourages the true spirit of thankfulness like knowing that because YOU needed it, the bird was provided.

    When I was little (6-9), we kept chickens and while my parents tried to shield me a bit from the reality of butchering them, I was very aware of the process. We had our pet chickens and our ‘eatin’ chickens. haha. And then when I was 14 or so, I had some strictly pet chickens and tried to add some pet guinea fowl. Man. I had no idea guineas were so mean! They would corner my biddies and try to peck them to pieces so… my dad butchered the guineas and I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a meal so much.

  27. Wow! What a neat story. I wish we could have those connections to our meat and eggs more easily here in the US. My bf hunts and he shot a deer this year, so we have lots of jerky, and steak (?) for him. The jerky is awesome ;)

  28. The two times that I went on Pioneer Trek we killed, prepped and cooked our own turkey. It really teaches an appreciation for food.

  29. I’m glad you were able to buy and eat a turkey that was humanely raised and slaughtered. I wish we Americans, like the ones who have commented above, wouldn’t think this story was so funny. It’s just not funny to take the life of another living being. And to take that life for your pleasure. Not for your needs.

    I was a member of a CSA on Long Island a few years ago. During a summer visit to their farm, we took a tour and saw where they were raising their turkeys. They had many turkeys crammed into a trailer, with the turkeys being at the stage in which they were too young to be released into an outdoor area. That was already heartbreaking to see turkey heads looking out the window of the trailer, but without being able to get outside in the fresh air and nature. And then a tragedy happened… they think it was arson. Somehow the trailer caught fire and all of the turkeys in there perished. Gone just like that. And they were just babies, without the chance to ever run free in their short lives.

  30. Hi Gabrielle! I’m an Australian and I married my Californian 6 years ago. I had obviously never celebrated Thanksgiving prior to getting married AND I’m a vegetarian so you can imagine my imposition on my in-laws my first Thanksgiving being that they are huge meat eaters! During one Thanksgiving, someone asked me what’s the strangest food I’d ever eaten and I looked at my plate with the candied yams and marshmallows and the ambrosia salad and said…’um…this?’ My hubby just laughs at me.
    We haven’t been living in the US for the last three years. Two years in China and this year in Australia. We have had a very difficult time finding turkey as Australians are not big on turkey except for at Christmas either so my hubby could only purchase a turkey breast this year. This is a step up for him as the last two years in China, there has been only chicken! So he was extra thankful this year!
    I think it’s really important to continue to celebrate our own country’s holidays and special occasions but I think it’s fun to have to adapt them to the cultures we live in at the time. A wider appreciation for the rest of the world is something your children can always be thankful for! We only have the one babe right now but raising him Australian/American (usually in China!) is proving a lot of fun!

  31. When we were still living in Zaire (modern day Congo) my parents decided to give a bbq and to serve goat-brochette. They dispatches someone to the market with the order ‘to buy meat for the bbq’, he returned with 5 live goats. This was the day before the bbq so there was still time to look for a butcher who could carve them up. Our German Shepperd had a fun day herding the goat in the garden.

  32. I’m interested to know who cleaned it out. I don’t know if I could handle that part of it. I have a hard enough time taking the bag of guts out and cleaning out the turkey and then stuffing it when it’s frozen. It totally freaks me out!

  33. I’m a vegetarian but my husband and I recently moved to a very small community in Nunavut (the arctic tundra in northern Canada) where animals are hunted for sustenance. It’s a very beautiful thing to see traditional hunters going out and bringing back whales, walruses, seals, caribou, etc. and sharing the meat with the community. Most of this “country food” is eaten raw!

  34. What a great story, read it yesterday and found myself thinking about it this morning. It’s a wonderful and somewhat rare experience for your children to ‘know’ their food.

  35. wow i might have cried if I got a turkey like that. I would have no idea how to dehead and declaw it or really how to cook it. My husband is a vegetarian so I don’t cook meat too often. It sound like a very fun french thanksgiving adventure though.

  36. hahaha… we are currently living in hong kong & keep getting the same answer on when will you have turkeys available. all the butchers keep telling us – christmas. has no american ever lived here before? I want a turkey in november not december. i will keep asking…

  37. I loved this post! I studied my junior year abroad in Paris – and the restaurant our program took us to for Thanksgiving ran out of turkey – and replaced it with duck. I was even happier for the exotic replacement – but some of my fellow students were so disapointed!
    I also love the post b/c I live in Sweden – and have been finding some of the best – farm fresh turkeys I have ever tasted – over the past 18 years. My newest discovery is a family run farm that provides me with excellent whole and quartered turkey. They will butcher our bird on Sunday, and deliver it on Tuesday. I share your wonder with connection to our food source!

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