Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dartmoor Commoners and Moor knowledge: Turkey plucking and moor

I am a Dartmoor Commoner. Simply this means that I have a right to graze cows, sheep and ponies on two Commons on Dartmoor. I share those rights with other Commoners but the land is owned by an individual or company. I see this as a form of ‘communal ownership’ unusual outside indigenous communities. I asked a fellow Commoner about Christmas traditions and he suggested turkey plucking.

Traditionally at least for a few hundred years a bird has been at the centre of the Christmas dinner. Today most people buy a turkey, goose or chicken killed and prepared in a factory and ready to put in the oven. However small farms and small holders in places like Dartmoor will be preparing birds relying on the knowledge passed down to them. Once a bird is killed it has to be plucked. Feathers must be plucked out carefully and gently to prevent the tearing of the skin. Feathers stray and it is best to pluck straight into a bag. Most pluckers will place the bird on their knees and pluck using a downward action. In my own family my husband has taught our sons and one in particular is better at it than the others. On Dartmoor farm labourers will be called from a neighbouring farm to help in the plucking which takes time and happens two weeks before Christmas.

Interestingly whilst discussing turkey plucking with my neighbour he talked about his ancestry and said that he could trace his family back to before the ‘Conqueror’ came in 1066. The evidence being a rhyme told to him by another Commoner. ‘The Cruises, Crockers and the Copplestones when the Conqueror came they were all at home.’ Oral traditions are often used by indigenous peoples to connect themselves to their land. He asked why he was not counted as a member of an indigenous peoples. My answer was complicated and one which will be discussed in this blog in the future.

Written by Fiona Batt.

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