Any ethnography will contain a substantial section on ‘rites of passage’. The study of anthropology places much attention on these transitionary periods because they appear to be something of a universal, common, in some respect, to all human societies. They mark the transition from one phase of life into another, often involving some sort of test to prove that one is worthy of inclusion. A rite of passage combines three distinct phases: separation, when the subject is ‘removed’ either physically or metaphorically, from their previous existence, a ‘liminal’ period where they are effectively in limbo – neither one thing or another, often incorporating some sort of ‘test’, and an ‘inclusion’ where they are welcomed back from their exile and begin enjoying the trappings that come with their new status. If all this sounds a little exotic and foreign think again. Baptisms, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, drinking society initiations, 21st birthdays, graduation – these all contain the three basic elements common to all rites of passage. This may all seem a little off topic for a food related blog but I like to educate as well as inform and record the myriad of culinary adventures that make up a vast proportion of my existence. Plus it is related in a rather circuitous fashion as I underwent a personal rite of passage, of sorts, last week.
Contrary to what many of the larger supermarkets would have us believe, meat doesn’t grow in neat little packages ready to wrap in plastic and place into a chilled cabinet. It actually comes from living, breathing fur and feather covered animals which need killing, skinning, gutting and chopping up before they arrive in those neat little packages. They have heads and eyes and hearts and guts (lots of guts) and a whole body full of less than pleasant bits which have got to be removed before those sanitised pieces of flesh can be put in the oven or frying pan and chewed down in a spirit of gentle innocence and slight ignorance as to where they came from. Meat can now be enjoyed without even considering the consequences or chain of events that led to it being arranged on a plate with some tasty veg and gravy. This really wasn’t intended as a standing on soapbox style rant, honestly. More a precursor to explaining my little initiation ceremony into the warm embrace of life in the country which involved the dubious privilege of transforming a full creature, squidgy bits and all, into something worth eating.
It started with a pheasant in a field. A dead pheasant in a field that was easily accessible without breaking too many laws regarding trespassing or poaching. I vaulted the fence with the gentle grace of a heavily pregnant sow and picked up the dead bird to give it a once over and a good sniff, just to make sure that it hadn’t been mauled by a passing predator or been dead long enough for the smell to make me dry heave. Thankfully it looked, and smelt, fresh, a small hole in the breast suggesting a glancing shot had caused its death. After meeting the approval of my incredibly understanding and equally intrepid girlfriend we took the bird home and hung it up the garage for three days which we were informed was an optimum length of time for those who don’t like their game to be too ‘high’. There was something strangely macabre and slightly medieval about seeing a dead pheasant swinging from one of the beams in the garage, as if some horrific lynching had just been carried out by a feathered mob and the image stayed with me for some time even after the garage door had been shut. And there it hung for three days until the time came for me to make my first foray into plucking and gutting.
To be continued.
NB – there is a photographic record of the entire event. If there is enough interest, it shall be included.