(My Great-Uncle was good at bringing things home for dinner. He married a townie, who had never prepared food from fresh before, but she soon got to grips with plucking, gutting and stuffing. Until he came home with a rabbit, dumped it on the kitchen table and announced he was off to the pub. Two hours later, he came home to find my Great-Aunt in floods of tears, fluff and fur floating everywhere, and she wailed “I can’t pluck all this fur out!” Poor Great Aunt, she didn’t know she was supposed to skin it. She had to put up with that story being told for the rest of her life - and now beyond, because I’m telling it again.)
Anyway, imagine my delight when I got an e-mail from Ms D after New Year to tell me she’d found her first pheasant of 2012, a lovely cock-bird - did I want it? Too effing right I wanted him. She gave me advice on cooking him, and asked if I wanted the head and legs - ooooh yes please - and I asked whether I could have a tail-feather or two?
Big excitement from Ms D, she offered me the wet skin to preserve, the heart, and the full crop of grain to go along with the pheasant. SERIOUS good juju for the start of the New Year; I’m kinda restricted to a tiny area at the moment as I have no car, I have to walk to school and back three times a day to take the Witchlets to nursery and primary school, and time is VERY SHORT, so getting my hands dirty doing something practical sounded like heaven.
Sir Pheasant (as he came to be known) arrived, beautifully sealed and packaged, in due course. I removed the head and feet, the head to be cold-water macerated, and the feet to be dried. He was carefully butchered into pieces and braised in the most marvellous way, and consumed for dinner by me (and also Witchlet Two, who can’t help herself but want anything I have on my plate). Hubby eyed it carefully, and twenty four hours later (after it was clear that I wasn’t going to get sick!) polished off leftovers. Sir Pheasant was incredibly tender and delicious (braising makes all the difference when it’s an older bird) and I definitely want to do THAT again! The cooked bones were cleaned, even the gorgeous tiny vertebrae of his stunning neck.
The skin, meanwhile, had yet to turn up. Mild panic stations for 48 hours, but finally the Royal Mail got its act together, and the rest of Sir Pheasant arrived. Pathology’s loss is this Witch’s gain; Ms D’s surgical skills are amazing and the skin was perfect.
I burned copal and passed the skin through the smoke, thanking Sir Pheasant for coming to me, offering the work I was about to do as a time-sacrifice for his spirit. Over the next three hours I reverently cared for the skin and feathers, collecting the odd pheasant feather and down that escaped the skin as I worked with it, until I could finally run my fingers through the whisper-soft feathers, just as I had wanted to all those years ago. I must have sat there for an hour, just stroking him, somehow building a connection with this bird I had never seen alive. My heart was both singing and breaking, shedding tears for the manner of his death, but smiling for him coming to me, to allow me to finally touch him. Waves of emotion flooded me, and I found myself seeing through fields of barley, rising up into the sun briefly, then back down into the stalks, rustling, brushing against me. Connection made? Yeah, I think so.
Sir Pheasant’s skin is now curing away on the highest shelf at the back of the kitchen. Every day, Witchlet One and I get up on a chair to say hello and see how he is doing. In a few weeks, once the skin is completely cured, I shall share photos of him. In the meantime, here is a photo of him during my work…
...and if you want to see more, check out my Flickr album.
I decided that cold water maceration of the head COULD NOT BE DONE INDOORS. When you’ve got Witchlets whose aim in life is to touch EVERYTHING they are not supposed to, AT LEAST ONCE, then having a decomposing pheasant head in the house is probably not the best idea. But leaving it out in the cold wasn’t probably going to be a great idea either. In the end, I’ve settled for putting him in a jar, covered with muslin, at the back of the top shelf in my little greenhouse, which backs on to next door’s extension and is right next to our patio doors, so will keep reasonably decent temperatures. Sure enough, the water is turning ripe, so things are HAPPENING.
I am going to be FUCKING BUSY, it seems.
Big thanks to Ms Dirty for making this possible. She’s damn well suggesting I do the WHOLE thing next time, skinning it, the works - and I’m more than up for this! (Starting to feel…. well, a BIT like an apprentice. It’s good. So you CAN teach an Old Witch new tricks…)