Turkey is a traditional Christmas staple on the dinner table. But how much do you know about these delicious creatures? Katie Haylor spoke to turkey expert Marcus Bradford about how best to cook one, and also about what they get up to before they end up on our plates...
Katie - Turkeys. An import from the North American continent. The story goes that these wild fowl made their way over to the UK in the 1500s, and started to compete with goose and other meats for a place at our Christmas dinner tables. Apparently Henry VIII was rather a fan, but perhaps this isn’t surprising, as rumour has it he did like a feast or two. But before they become “oven-ready” as it were, what do turkeys actually get up to? Are they as dumb and, I'm saying it, as dry as some of us think? I went to meet turkey expert Marcus Bradford from The Gog Farm Shop in Cambridgeshire to find out.
Marcus - An average day for our turkeys would be; wake up in the woods have a mooch around and they love looking for grubs. They’ll eat pretty much anything they can see. They love picking at anything different, so if we put CDs in their pen, they'll like the lights reflecting off stuff and like, little bottle tops are really good because they keep pecking them. So things to keep them entertained. As it gets dark, they go to roost either on the ground or in the low branches and trees. They can get quite high if they want to. Yeah and then they wake up at dawn. Same again.
Katie - So it doesn't sound like they have an awful lot on their plates and perhaps they're not quite as mean or ugly as they seem.
Marcus - A lot of people don’t like turkeys because they think they’re ugly. They’re related to the vulture so they’ve got that, kind of, hooked beak and some pretty big talons, and they can look quite scary or mean. They're lovely. I mean they will peck you but not in a vicious way.
Katie - They sound quite curious.
Marcus - They're very curious, but they're not vicious or malicious in any way. If you drive the car into the pen they'll jump in the car, they jump in the front seat. They’re also beautiful.
Katie - Really?
Marcus - Yes, they are. Other people think they're ugly but they have this funny little snood round the neck which okay, that is a little bit gross, but the rest of them are beautiful. The bronze turkeys particularly have a really beautiful iridescence.
Katie - Being a flock bird, they're pretty sociable as Marcus explained. You don’t often find one turkey without some others.
Marcus - We were watching the Grand Prix and a turkey came into the porch of the house, which was pretty bad because we know that you never have one escape on its own.
Katie - Uh-oh.
Marcus - Yeah, so we had 1000 turkeys all over the farm yeah, and because they’re quite inquisitive they're going to go see movement. They’re attracted to movement, attracted to noise so they walked up to the road to see what was going on. So we had about 200 turkeys but they’re not stupid enough to walk onto the road. So they’re all just in a line, just stood there on the A1307 just looking at what was going on. So fortunately we had some pretty clever dogs and we stopped watched the Grand Prix, ran up there and go shooed them all back.
Katie - That must've been a pretty odd sight for passers by. But back before the days of mass transport, how exactly did farmers get a whole host of turkeys to market?
Marcus - The Norfolk turkeys would be walked overland and because 1700s-1800s, the roads obviously wouldn’t have been busy, but also fields weren't divided up as much. So it would have been pretty easy to just walk a flock of, you know, however many hundreds of turkeys across land, common land, and then they would walk and they would feed off the stubble and that’s when they would eat any drop grain and they'd all be foraging off stuff. You can’t walk them too quickly because if you walk them too quickly they'll be too lean.
Katie - Ah, not enough dinner, come Christmas Day.
Marcus - Yes, you need to have enough fat on them. So you have to walk them at the right speed. Just nice and you don’t want to wear them out because they'll get tired and they'll lag behind. So yes, just they can casually walk and eat enough food to put on weight so they're ready by the time we get to London.
Katie - And finally when these birds are oven-ready, any tips for cooking?
Marcus - So turkey isn't dry. Badly cooked turkey is dry, in the same way badly baked cakes are dry. So if you do it properly, none of this night before cooking. A four kilo or five kilo turkey is two hours in the oven. Even a nine kilo turkey would be three hours in the oven. Cook it to 65 degrees let it rest for a good hour. It will not go cold. Supermarket turkeys don't tend to be reared in the best conditions. They’re a little more susceptible to disease or problems. So it's best to cook those turkeys to 80 degrees. Cook a turkey to 80 degrees, tastes dry. It takes ages to cook at that temperature. Also don’t cover it in foil.
Katie - Oh. Oh no, I’ve been cooking turkey wrong!
Marcus - Yeah. Everyone's been cooking turkey wrong. If you put foil over it, it’ll steam and it’ll go all soggy and horrible. So no foil, just two hours. Done. Let it rest.