The Encyclopedia of Fall: H is for Hunter's Moon
John has hunted for, cleaned, and processed ducks, geese, and grouse in the wild. I’ve witnessed chickens being dispatched, but this is the first time I’ve helped. It’s a quiet activity; we don’t want to upset the remaining birds. And we’re grateful to these birds as we handle them in their deaths. I find myself in awe: the stillness, almost drowsiness, when they hang upside down, then the automatic spasms and flapping of wings as their nervous systems shut down. I’m surprised by how long the bodies remain warm and soft. We’re tender as we pluck their feathers, gut and clean them, wash the cavities with rock salt and cold water, and wrap them for our freezers.
We sit on the back deck in the sun, the birds between us, and talk as we work. The cats sidle up and watch. The hens and the remaining turkey go about their business in the coop, scratching at the soil, settling in the shade, looking for fresh scraps. The tom weighs in at 31 pounds dressed; the hen at 23 pounds.
I think about how when I cook the hen we’ll remember her strutting outside, dark feathers flashing. Knowing where and how she was raised–fresh air, lots of vegetable peelings, and some grain–makes her sweeter.
I think about the green-tomato mincemeat I’m going to make when I have a chance to finish picking the fruits off my vines, now partly blackened by frost. We’ll pick apples in the late afternoon, and pull more food out of our vegetable garden back at home.
A blue-sky day. The geese go south. The moon is waxing. Harvest, glean, slaughter, freeze, preserve, prepare. Hunker-down time is almost here.
Read more about Autumn A to Z in the September/October issue of Yankee Magazine
This essay originally appeared in the Addison County Independent, Middlebury, Vermont. See Kate Gridley’s recipes: