Thursday 18 January 2018

The changing times of our turkey traditions

Haven't got a turkey yet? Well, don't panic, there are lots of great choices out there for the last-gasp merchant

Get the bird: Paul and Fintan Hogan of Hogan's Farm in Cortown, Kells, Co Meath
Get the bird: Paul and Fintan Hogan of Hogan's Farm in Cortown, Kells, Co Meath

Lucinda O'Sullivan

It's pretty well last gasp when it comes to getting the festive fowl. Never fear, though, I'm a last gasp merchant myself, sometimes buying the bird on Christmas Eve, and it always works out just fine!

Turkey farmers, of course, are up to their eyeballs in production and dispatch - in more ways than one - for having nurtured their hatchlings for months, this is the time they reap their rewards.

I don't know about other families, but, when it comes to cooking a whole turkey, I'm fairly traditional; use a bread stuffing on Christmas morning, tweaked with chopped apricots, pecans, and a hint of allspice, plus a sausage meat, chestnut and prune farce, in the breast cavity. I don't brine the turkey or soak it in Coca Cola, or insert a beer can.

Each to his own. I know someone who cooks hers on Christmas Eve, plates it up, vegetables and all, and reheats the lot on Christmas Day.

I like the look of the bird on the side table, it's always meant celebration, added atmosphere, and the best part was always the leftovers on St Stephen's Day - it all tastes a lot better cold.

Up to recent years, the bird used to hang around for a few days until you were all heartily sick of it. Indeed, I also knew a 'great socialiser' who got full value from hers on day three or four by inviting a mixum gathering of those not exactly on her A list. I still remember the smell of the turkey soup and the drumstick fricassee.

Nowadays, things have changed and, once the big day is over, Brendan and I are pretty well left to it, as our sons Aidan and Ian are far more interested in a Chinese takeaway!

This, of course, is right up the alley of my two Siamese cats, Bobby Dazzler and Bruno, who go wild at the whiff of bird - but even they won't eat the leg.

Perhaps, with all the great global cuisine available now with a touch of your iPhone, it is a reflection of our times, and why more people are just buying the turkey crown, finding it easier to cook and not feel guilty after for wanting to ditch the massive leftovers.

Paul Hogan, of Hogan's Farm in Cortown, Kells, Co Meath, is a turkey producer, along with his brother, Fintan, and he told me how tastes have changed down the years.

"The business was started by my mother, Teresa Hogan, in the 1960s. My father was a dairy farmer and my mother got into turkeys as a hobby one Christmas. She started off with 25 or 30 turkeys, and now we do something in the region of 70,000 or 80,000 turkeys.

"We have over 100 people working for us and we're supplying Dunnes Stores for the past seven years with turkey all year round. We also grow turkeys for other independents, like Joyce's of Galway, JC Savage's of Swords, Donnybrook Fair and Nolan's of Clontarf - those type of customers.

"The 'whole bird' market has gone down slowly, but some years it varies. It depends when Christmas falls, it can come back again. You couldn't say fully that the 'whole bird' market is going away - but 'crowns' would be on the up, plus breast meat."

Paul laughed as he told me that his mother always said the most flavour was in the thigh.

"My mother started boning and rolling turkeys years ago, there was a special way she did it. When Dunnes Stores saw it they gave us the opportunity to supply them with a small order for the first year, and that has grown and grown to be a substantial part of our business today. We now supply boned and rolled turkeys, whole turkeys, crowns and added-value products.

"We do a boneless turkey breast with apricot and clementine stuffing, and a smoky bacon lattice on top in their Simply Better range, and it's a fantastic product. It's also in a foil tray, so there's no washing up!"

Paul is also doing turkey sausage with tomato and basil, which won a gold medal at the Blas na hEireann Awards. It's low in salt (as opposed to most sausages) and it certainly sounds very interesting.

"We are also in the middle of developing a wild turkey range, raised in the woodlands. It's only the second year and next year we are hoping to have Hogan's Farm Woodland Bronze Turkeys.

"This turkey is reared for up to seven weeks in a normal farm shed and then they are let go into the woodlands. The shed is there if they want to come back in - but they always choose to live in the trees, the banks and ditches. It's only a very small pilot operation at the moment. We have electric fences on the perimeter which protects them from the foxes, but these birds live out in the woodlands and it's just fantastic."

Another long-time turkey producer is David McEvoy, based in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, who has been raising traditional bronze turkeys since 1990.

"They are hatched in June. It's very important if you want a really nice turkey at ­Christmas that they are hatched in June, because after that the turkeys are not mature for Christmas. So when you get a turkey from us, they are hatched around June 19. They go outside around July 28 and stay outside until the first week of December. The turkeys are fully matured by Christmas, they're 26 weeks old, they're a slow-growing bronze variety with a beautiful flavour and very moist meat.

"We were the first to start bronze turkeys in Ireland. We specialise in turkeys, but we also do dry-cured honey clove hams, which we do ­ourselves on the farm.

"We raise around 4,000 turkeys and we sell them direct to customers and some butchers shops in Dublin - including Ennis's in Rialto, Smith's of Portmarnock, Kerrigan's in Malahide, O'Connor's in Glasthule and Dunnes in Donnybrook.

By the way, Dunnes Stores Simply Better range also have a super trio of elegant plum puddings - cherry & champagne, hidden-centre clementine & cranberry, and zesty citrus fruit. They also have sherry trifle soaked in Harvey's Bristol Cream, a great tarte au citron and all-butter Belgian chocolate fondants.

In fact, all of the supermarkets have excelled themselves with luxury convenience ranges this year and it's worth noting that, for €25, Morton's of Ranelagh has a 'Christmas trimmings' pack which gives you potatoes, sprouts, parsnip and carrot puree, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and mince pies.

Sunday Independent

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