My immediate reaction to ‘pluck’ is plucking chooks. Nothing beautiful, uplifting or spiritual about that, perhaps indicative of my plebeian soul. But nonetheless I do remember those chook-plucking sessions with fondness, possibly enhanced by the fact that the most memorable ones were just before Christmas. (We had chicken for Christmas, not turkey.)
Come the day, my dad and I would take ourselves out to the university farm (where my dad had free access to any produce on offer), the farm manager would wring the requisite number of necks (about 6, I think) and we’d bring the birds home to be suitable denuded.
Meanwhile Mum would have boiled the copper and the production line would commence, Dad at one laundry tub, Mum at the other. Each bird would be plunged into boiling water – a quick in and out – then Dad would strip off the feathers and pass the bird to Mum for cleaning – ie, a hand up the nether regions and a careful removal of guts.
This is a precise and delicate operation not for the faint-hearted, as breaking the gall bladder in the process means curtains for your chicken dinner. My mum was expert at it, and in hindsight (it didn’t occur to me at the time) I take my hat off to her. Nothing in her strictly correct and proper Victorian upbringing would have suggested that chickens had guts, let alone that she would one day learn how to remove them. I, meanwhile, was fascinated by the whole process. (My sisters not so much. Make that ‘not at all’.)
The other benefit of these chook-plucks was that we got to have chicken giblets for breakfast on Christmas morning. Again, you might shudder, but that would be because you’ve never sampled the delights of chicken livers, gizzards, hearts and necks (with skinned legs thrown in to thicken the broth) gently simmered to delicate toothsomeness. Poor you.
The downside of my close acquaintance with plucking chooks is that I am now quite critical of other people’s expertise (or lack of). All very well to buy your chickens ostensibly ready for cooking, but intensely annoying when you have to go over the bird removing pin feathers before it hits the oven. My parents would have been mortified if they’d missed a wisp.