Chickens, duck, and turkey about to be dressed for the freezer, author’s photo©

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s article on plucking poultry, this being the drawing [to draw the internal organs from the body] step in the butchering process.  It comes from the 1906 “Handbook of Domestic Cookery”.

Just because a way of doing something seems to be the most logical it isn’t always and we should never forget the wisdom of preceding generations when doing something we may not be completely familiar with.  When I was a child every fall my mom would go to the Mennonite community and purchase hens that weren’t laying as well as they once had to dress for the freezer and every year she’d tell me I was going to get a whipping if I didn’t help her clean the hens.  I would go outdoors with the strongest of resolves but when the first head was severed and the headless hen started flopping around on the ground I’d tell her, “Beat me now cause I was going to the house”.

As an adult I’m of a much stronger constitution and can dispatch a bird, pluck, and draw it as a matter of course.  Let’s look at century-old instructions for this part of processing poultry to see if it might offer any insight that we may have missed.


Dressed turkey, author’s photo©

“Poultry must never be in the slightest degree tainted before dressing, though with the exception of pigeons (which are considered to lose flavor by keeping even a day), all poultry is the better for hanging some time before it is cooked.  A turkey may be kept for a fortnight or longer still in cold weather, a goose the same, a fowl will keep for a week, a duck but three days; if young, they are fit to dress immediately on being killed.  When it is desired to keep poultry, it should be feathered, drawn, hung in a cool dry air, seasoned inside with pepper, and wiped often.  Poultry ought not to be washed, unless any of the intestines should be broken during drawing, in which case alone washing out is necessary.  When a bird is drawn, wipe out the inside and pepper it, if for keeping.  The general mode of drawing poultry is to make a cut across the vent, and through this opening the entrails are carefully withdrawn, after this the finger should be inserted, and the heart, liver, etc., taken out.  This part of the operation requires the greatest care to avoid bursting the gall-bag in the liver, which would spoil the bird; the best way to withdraw this part of the intestines is to grasp the gizzard firmly, and then by gentle steady drawing, the heart and liver, etc., will come with it.  The bird being emptied wipe it out, and take out any fat that may be inside.  Widen the vent, and pass it over the rump, and proceed with the trussing as directed; slit the gizzard open on the side, remove its contents with the lining membrane, and cut out the gall bag from the liver.  The fat taken from the insides of ducks or fowls should be melted for basting the birds with, while that from the goose should be rendered for goose grease.  All poultry having white meat requires the same treatment in roasting.  To keep boiled poultry white, rub it over with lemon juice before dressing.  Poultry of every kind requires to be thoroughly cooked; nothing is more objectionable to the taste and eye than underdone poultry.  A brisk clear fire is necessary for poultry, as it is spoilt by slow roasting.  When poultry is not prepared by the poulterer, it is best to pluck and singe it before drawing and trussing.  When a goose is too old to be roasted, it may be treated as pork and made into a ham, like which it should be dressed.  Green [young] geese do not require stuffing, but should be seasoned inside with pepper and salt.