Today began as many other days do in Italy, with strong coffee and some breakfast. I am happy to say that there are no cookies in sight in this home, and my breakfast was bread, freshly baked and gifted to Suzie and Phelan by friends. The toast was smathered with butter (sigh, it’s been a while since I’ve had butter) and jams Suzie had made. Delicious. We even had a bit of the apple dumpling leftover from last night with cream. Now that is what I call breakfast!
We checked in with Suzie and Phelan to see what today’s tasks would be and were surprised to learn we would be catching and killing ducks. Suzie described it best as “catch the ducks, kill the ducks, pluck the ducks”, and so it was.
This is my disclaimer: if you are not into animal-eating/killing and are very opposed to the whole thing, please know that I am going to describe this process in detail. If you’re squeamish, maybe proceed with caution. If you’re vegan, well that’s your decision. I will tell you before I start that the animals here are treated beautifully. It’s important that animals be treated humanely, and I can honestly say that you that NONE of your standard chicken breast (unless of course you buy from local farmers) comes from a chicken treated as well as the animals are here. Keeping that in mind, if you can you should buy locally. Support your local farmers. This is my only soapbox and I will stand on it forever. Anyway, you’ve been warned. This will get bloody.
They keep them in a small coop overnight, and so Suzie popped in the coop to grab some ducks. After she caught one she would grab it by its feet and hang it upside down to pass to me, where I was standing outside of the coop. I’d pass the duck off to Phelan who would quickly break their necks using a handle, and then he tied them up and passed them off to Fran with their necks hanging limp and bloody. Some of them were still twitching so I was pretty glad I wasn’t the one holding them after. It was quite a bit to take in at 10 in the morning, but it was so in-the-moment you didn’t really think much about it, you just participated. These ducks were raised free-range, eating grubs and snails to their delight, and splashing in a little pond built for their pleasure.
So that was the catching and the killing, now for the plucking. Phelan used a metal pole with a hook at the end to immerse the ducks in a large canister of boiling water for a few seconds. This makes the plucking easier. He would pull them out and lay them on a wooden table where we proceeded to pluck. You basically just use your thumb and the knuckle area of your pointer finger to pinch and then pluck the feathers out in quick short movements. Then you had to remove most of the ‘down’ which is what makes all of your warm fluffy blankets. The wings and tails involved a bit more strength since the feathers were so much larger. Once we had most of their feathers and down removed from the neck downwards, Phelan lightly torched them with a blow torch to singe off any leftover down pieces. I know, it sounds so ridiculous to use a blow torch to heat naked duck bodies, but it wasn’t the kind you would use to make creme brulee. It was a lot larger and not as intense of a flame. Sort of a light sprinkling of fire, if you will.
Next was cleaning the duck. Phelan used a sharp knife to create a triangle incision near the duck’s anus. He then reached in through the incision to grab the stomach, intestines, bile duct, and liver. You have to be careful not to break the bile duct because otherwise it would overpower the meat and then you would have spoiled meat. He cleaned the liver and stomach and put them aside because they are eaten. He reached back in to grab the heart and rinsed it one more time.
Phelan let me make the incision and clean one out. Yes you use your bare hands. He kept saying ‘small hands work really well for this’. It was true. I was involved in the killing and I felt I owed it to the duck to see the process through. And I may have mentioned this before, but when that apocalypse comes, I will be eating ducks and cooking delicious potatoes in their fat. Gross? Too soon? Sorry. So I cleaned one out and laid the liver and stomach aside. I don’t think Suzie and Phelan normally keep the stomach, but Fran asked why they don’t eat the stomachs, and so Phelan decided to keep them this time and find out what to do with them. So we might be eating some sauce that involves duck stomaches for dinner (THANKS FRAN!). 🙂
The rest of the afternoon was less bloody. We made a new bed in one of the gardens (yes there are two gardens) and planted shallots in it. We packed the dirt around them by walking over it and sort of stomping a bit. Maybe not stomping, shuffling. Next we did a bit of weeding in the pig pen area, as they will hopefully have acquired a piglet in the next few days. Towards the end of our work day, we picked tomatoes, wax beans, and ‘dragon toungue’ beans (which are just green with black/purplish streaks). And wrapped up some hoses. And witnessed a fox try and steal the only cockerel who was strutting around snacking. Luckily the dogs scared the fox and it dropped the cockerel who is (was?) still alive. He had just been bitten.
And wow I haven’t told you anything about the farm! Suzie and Phelan have goats, lambs, chickens, rabbits, ducks, pigeons, doves, three dogs, and two cats. Phew! Don’t worry, they don’t eat the cats and dogs. In fact, two of the dogs are really sweet rescue-greyhounds. They’re a bit skitterish since they’re rescued, but I think they’ve warmed up to Fran and I since they’ll snuggle right into us as we’re standing there. In addition to the animals, there are pomegranate, fig, orange, lemon, and olive trees (there could be more that I just haven’t seen yet) and two gardens with tomatoes, beans, fennel, chard, lettuces, etc. I mean everywhere you look here, you see something new. It’s wild and beautiful and I absolutely love it.
Now I’m just sitting by the fire trying to decide whether or not I should post pictures of the duck killing. You tell me. Do you want to see some pictures? I only have one or two, but I just don’t want to force you into them. So for now, here are the pictures of the apartment, the chickens, and some of the things around the house.
I must get to sleep – exhausted from today and excited for what tomorrow brings.
EDIT: Here are the duck shots!