Life

Anne Hailes: I went to buy a piece of shin and ended up talking turkey – and learning the secret to cooking the perfect Christmas dinner

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Don't be a Scrooge with your turkey this Christmas...
Don't be a Scrooge with your turkey this Christmas... Don't be a Scrooge with your turkey this Christmas...

I went to buy a piece of shin and ended up talking turkey... It's the time of year for both – warming broth with tender meat and fresh vegetables is hard to beat on a chilly lunchtime and, as for the noble beast for Christmas Day, it's time to order the bird.

Why turkey? Apparently they came to us from the Americas, imported into Europe from Turkey, hence the name, and so onto our plates. Before that, back in the 1500s if you were fortunate enough to be invited to break bread with Henry VIII and one of his many wives, it would have been hog's head, swan and pigeon but that wasn't fancy enough so he became the first English king to serve turkey at his festive board. I wonder will King Charles III be following this royal protocol?

However, the man who gave the turkey the biggest boost was probably Charles Dickens, whose Ebenezer Scrooge went through terrible trauma before coming to his senses and adopting the Christmas spirit and sending Tiny Tim a nourishing bird.

Thanks to the Ghost of Christmas Present he sees a vision of the ill boy, the son of his poorly paid clerk, as the family sit down to their pathetic Christmas dinner; but with his newfound spirit of goodwill he arranges for the biggest turkey in town to be delivered to the Cratchit household.

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Apparently it was even bigger than Tiny Tim, with plenty for all the family and some left over. Scrooge is delighted and keeps his identity a secret; however, the family find out and because of his new spirit of generosity, Scrooge becomes a friend of the family and mentor to Tiny Tim.

OASIS OF CALM

How nice to take time out to read this story to children just before you sit down to Christmas dinner and think about generosity, supporting other families and remembering those who are living through dreadful times in the rest of the world.

It's not too early to visit the butcher and discuss your order, if indeed you want to have turkey on December 25. Although supermarkets are more convenient for the shopper there's no substitute for the real thing – from the turkey farm and straight to the local butcher, where you can view your dinner before buying and get the best advice from the man who knows.

For me that is Stanley Skelton. He tells me that to get the best flavourful results, keep the bones in place. Some families like a turkey crown, which is easier to carve but not so succulent.

Steven gives timely advice to customers in Stanley’s butcher’s shop Fortwilliam in Belfast
Steven gives timely advice to customers in Stanley’s butcher’s shop Fortwilliam in Belfast Steven gives timely advice to customers in Stanley’s butcher’s shop Fortwilliam in Belfast

Stanley should know – he's been a butcher for 54 years and already for Christmas 2023 he has orders in with the turkey farmer for 500 birds and counting.

As a boy he was destined to be a motor mechanic in Holywood but, as he was going to have to wait for an opening, he helped out at a butcher's shop in Dundonald village, and the rest is history. What cars lost out on, his customers gained.

Stanley gets his turkeys from Galloway's farm in Randalstown. So I phoned John Galloway and heard the history of how in 1958 his parents had a suckler cow and beef enterprise, plus a few turkeys.

The turkeys were hand-plucked and popular, so much so that the two sons, John and Thomas, got involved and the business took off – especially as, with European funding, they were able to renovate their traditional farm building into a new dry-plucking processing unit, the largest of its kind in Northern Ireland.

With this facility 1,000 turkeys can be made ready for the shops in one day and come today, November 27, it will be all systems go with preparations for Christmas.

"Get a free range Bronze," John advised, so indeed I will, and I'll stuff it as recommended on the excellent Galloway website, gallowayturkeys.com.

By the way, boil your shin with a few lamb ribs and a green cabbage leaf for best taste results. Thank you Stanley.

The brothers Galloway, John and Thomas, who provide butchers with home-reared turkeys
The brothers Galloway, John and Thomas, who provide butchers with home-reared turkeys The brothers Galloway, John and Thomas, who provide butchers with home-reared turkeys

THE BASIC MESSAGE

Think ahead and lay your plans. One thing to consider is snow and ice and the danger of slipping and falling. What is the answer? Salt, which will eat the ice and leave paths and steps safe to walk on. Look no further than Kilroot and the Irish Salt Mines.

There you can buy 25kg bags of salt for £3. This is an invaluable resource during the winter months. Ring 028 9335 1151 to arrange.

So, the moral of the story is: put your thinking cap on, make a list, keep a diary of what to do when. Then your build-up to Christmas will be without the trauma poor old Scrooge went through and you'll be able to echo Tiny Tim's sentiment as he settled to turkey and all the trimmings: "God bless us everyone."