Over at his blog Randall extols the wonders of turkey. And in his comments, Marc tells how, as a Dutch boy, he never got too excited about the bird. This interchange brought to mind my only experience with the Dutch and the turkey. So I will attempt to tell you the tale as I sit here eating a leftover turkey sandwich – the best form of turkey in my opinion.
We were in the Congo and feeling a bit nostalgic as Christmas approached. You can do strange things when you begin to feel that way. So for a couple of years we did – a strange thing. We ordered a turkey. Turkeys are not native to the Congo. Ours had to be flown in from South Africa. We weren’t the only ones who chose to spend a small fortune to have a meal of this traditional fowl. That was in the days when for a price we could order almost anything from that land to the south. The cost was astronomical for a rather small bird – about 7 or 8 Kgs – that had obviously, from it’s flavour, had it’s diet supplemented with some sort of fish meal. But it was not tough. The Congolese chickens, on a diet of seeds and insects scratched out of the ground, were incredibly tough. Not roasting stock at all!
In previous years our Christmas fare had become home cured ham. It started out being grown at home – in our backyard. It was butchered at home – by Leo. (Who would have known that being the son of a pig farmer would reap such benefits!) It was cured at home – taking up a good part of the refrigerator for 10 days while it sat in brine. And then it was smoked – hanging in a half barrel rigged up to allow the smoke from the mango wood to penetrate it. This was a lot of work. It paid off in fantastic ham if all went well.
The chance to buy a turkey seemed like a good idea. Less work for sure. More expensive though if labor costs weren’t figured in – and my labor was cheap.
This particular year we were invited to spend part of our Christmas vacation with the Catholic fathers and sisters at the mission of Bobadi. The fathers were Belgian, the sisters were Dutch. The Dutch sisters were notoriously liberal for Catholics and wonderfully hospitable. They were our friends. They also were loved by my children whom they tended to spoil. They almost destroyed Leo’s memories of the grim sisters who ran the boarding school where he attended school for a couple of years.
The only complicating factor to the invitation was that we had this turkey which we had been anticipating eating for our big holiday meal. We decided to suggest that we contribute it to the festive meal we knew they would prepare for all of us to eat together. We decided to offer it and send the turkey out ahead of us with the father who came in to see us with the invitation. We would have to travel out as a family on our motorcycles and didn’t think the turkey would fare very well strapped to the back of the bike with our luggage.
The offer of the turkey was accepted with much delight. They would give it to the sisters to prepare. I suggested that we usually prepared it with a stuffing, not realizing what an unfamiliar dish this was to the sisters.
We arrived and that night sat down to a wonderful meal. Like us the fathers and sisters tended to save the special treats for Christmas. So there were real potatoes and an abundance of local foods as well as homemade chocolates, cookies and other sweet things. The sisters had done an amazing job of roasting the famous turkey. And for stuffing – prunes and raisins. Unusual for us but it was great.
We found out that turkey is not commonly eaten in Holland. The sisters had seen them but had never eaten it before. Since they tend to be large it apparently was only used for large gatherings – and of course by the Americans residing in Holland. So they had a first experience preparing and eating turkey and we had a first experience eating a turkey stuffed with fruit.
We went back to ham as our traditional Christmas meal the next year. It has retained a special place at our table every Christmas eve. Oh, we have turkey too but ham is necessary. I just don’t cure it at home any more.