Monday, 16 February 2009

I'm not a pheasant plucker...

...I'm the pheasant plucker's son. I'm only plucking pheasants 'til the pheasant plucker comes.

For the rest of the tongue-twisting song, go here. I can't even think it without stumbling. Nor can I get it out of my head whenever I'm dealing with said birds. Or as Neil Young might say, "Why do I keep plucking up?"

I am not the hunting, shooting and fishing type. I, personally, don't see the attraction in spending a day out to kill an animal for "pleasure". However, many of my family and the boyfriend's family do enjoy that sort of thing. It is mildly hypocritical, because I am very much a carnivore, and feel that as such I should be willing to kill my own meat - and I am prepared to do that, if the situation demanded it, but I wouldn't do it for fun. That and the fact that I'm such a crap shot, I doubt I'd hit anything, or if I did, it wouldn't be clean and I would hate to cause suffering.

On the other hand, I very much approve of pheasant shooting as a means to an end. Given I am going to eat meat (and I am, many people have tried and failed to convince me otherwise) I want the animal in question to have had a happy life and a swift and painless death. To me, a pheasant, bred and cosseted to a certain age by the likes of my great-uncle, then released into the guardianship and feeding of a gamekeeper for an untroubled, free-range life of pottering about in the English undergrowth, until a brief moment of being startled by a person with a stick crashing around the woods (and that's me doing the beating, on occasion), flying up and getting shot by any of the marksmen in-laws and dying instantly - well, that's a million times better than being a battery hen, surely? It has also been hypothesised that the only reason that so many tracts of deciduous woodland still exist here is that they are managed as pheasant territory and therefore worth more intact than razed for farmland or buildings. That provides valuable habitat for native bird species.

Finally, there's the whole ethos of being closer to one's food. I like to know where things have come from, and how they've been reared. I like to be told exactly when my food has been killed, and who by. When we visit the families, it's therefore not uncommon for me to be presented with a brace of pheasants for my own plucking enjoyment.

Oh, and my great-grandmother would turn in her grave if she thought I couldn't do this, so I have to keep my hand in.

I was going to fully document the plucking activities undertaken last weekend in my garden, and photographed it all as a kind of tutorial, but then when I sat down to edit them I realised that perhaps they were a bit too gory and I might run the risk of upsetting people, so I have only posted my close-ups of the stunning feathers of Mr Pheasant. Mrs Pheasant was lovely too, though not so striking in patterning, and this shot shows her soft grey-brown plumage next to his iridescence.

Instead, I'll tell you about an entirely un-natural food experience during the week. This follows on quite nicely from our Vanilla trip. On Wednesday night, Anna of the cakes took me and the boyfriend to the Dana Centre, an offshoot of the Science Museum in South Kensington, which hosts various interactive/popular science events for adults in the evenings. This one was on taste, and in particular how other senses can manipulate what we think we are tasting. There were some fascinating experiments. The first was to find out whether or not one is a "supertaster", someone with an intense perception of bitterness. This was done by each of us placing a small piece of filter paper impregnated with a chemical, PROP, on our tongues. Anna reacted with violent disgust, indicating that she is a supertaster. Me? I'm a "non-taster" - I could barely detect the mere hint of bitterness. Maybe this is why I like bitter drinks like campari - I simply don't taste the full hit. On the other hand, I don't like things like chili, coffee and grapefruit juice, which supertasters are supposed to dislike. Go figure.

We then dyed our tongues blue with food dye and counted the papillae to be found within the area of a ring reinforcer. Witness possibly the most unflattering picture I will ever post on here:

Then there were a set of vials of coloured, scented liquid - will the perceived aroma be altered by the visual cues? Yes - it was hard to recognise the green one as orange-scented or the red one as lemon.

Water scented with banana odour, or not, and/or with added sugar. Sugar + banana scent = intense banana flavour because we are trained to think of banana as sweet. Just banana scent doesn't taste like banana, but sugar-water alone does if you've had the banana-sugar first.

Blue, ground up mush, very difficult to recognise as rice if you also wear a nose clip to remove taste, texture and colour cues.

The inevitable molecular gastronomy table: textural experiments of Thai chicken soup and a coffee/chili/orange combo mixed with agar and extruded into spaghetti. Ick.

White wine dyed red, and sniffers initially identify "berry" and "chocolate" scents usually associated with red, which magically disappear when you tell them it's really white. Actually, I got that it was white straight away, hooray for my supersmell if not supertaste.

We did get some normal food too whilst we were listening to the talks (I just liked the primary colours here).

On the way out, we passed the beautiful, gothic Natural History Museum in the dark. One day I'll go back and photograph it properly, like this man was doing in the arched doorway.

Back to the bog standard food for a bit now, I think.

Oh, and whilst we were off playing with taste, Gail and Lotta were off playing with crafts at the Make Lounge's pre-Valentine's craft evening. I then had this sweet little Valentine's present in the post from Miss L. Thank you lovely!

1 comment:

Fiona said...

Hi Lucy, I work for Chris Piper Wines in Devon and found your lovely picture of pheasant feathers and would like to use it for a pub wine list - The Brace of pheasants at Plush near dorchester. would this be ok with you ?