Adam Ed­wards

Why aren’t we eat­ing Cotswolds lamb in­stead of bland tur­key?

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Christ­mas, like the Bloody Mary, be­longs in spirit to the Cotswolds. With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Nazareth, which can be a bit sweaty at this time of year, there is no finer place on earth in which to cel­e­brate the fes­tive sea­son. When an English­man is abroad, for ex­am­ple, and he dreams of the De­cem­ber jam­boree back home, he fan­ta­sises about it tak­ing place in this green and pleas­ant land. In his mind’s eye, en­cour­aged by ev­ery pic­turesque Christ­mas card, he imag­ines the jol­li­ties hap­pen­ing in our un­du­lat­ing part of the world rather than in, say, an L.S Lowry paint­ing.

There are of course other parts of ru­ral Bri­tain that will chal­lenge this view but none, in my opin­ion, evoke the same nos­tal­gic cel­e­bra­tory feel as our hills, barns, cot­tages, dry-stone walls and open fires. With that in mind I like to think the Cotswolds is Christ­mas per­son­i­fied with the an­noy­ing ex­cep­tion of the tur­key. And that oddly could have been sorted out too. We could have be­come the com­plete em­bod­i­ment of the Chris­tian feast – leav­ing La­p­land, for ex­am­ple, as an also ran – but we failed to com­mer­cialise the lamb.

It was Charles Dick­ens, in his 1843 book A Christ­mas Carol, who ar­ranged for Scrooge to give a tur­key to Bob Cratchit. Be­fore that no­body in Bri­tain had con­sid­ered the lumpen beast as a cel­e­bra­tory dish. Quite why Scrooge should have cho­sen the tur­key - a bird al­most ex­clu­sive to the Amer­i­cas and in par­tic­u­lar to Mex­ico - is un­known, but within a decade it was es­tab­lished as the sea­son of good­will’s gas­tro­nomic cen­tre­piece. By the 20th cen­tury Christ­mas wasn’t Christ­mas in the UK with­out a gob­bler. That is un­til ra­tioning was in­tro­duced in World War Two. Tur­keys were in short sup­ply and so the pop­u­la­tion mocked-up fes­tive birds from of legs of mut­ton. When the war was over the Cotswolds, which is after all his­toric sheep coun­try, sin­gu­larly failed to stick with the woolly quadruped and em­brace it as its Christ­mas dish. In­stead of eat­ing sheep we be­haved like them. We went back to the big bird to cel­e­brate the birth of Christ. And I for one have never un­der­stood why.

If tur­key was a lux­ury food such as a rib of beef, or if it was as rare as lark’s tongues or as fine as fois gras, I could more eas­ily com­pre­hend its po­si­tion as the apogee of the feast of St Stephen. But it is not. It is not only not spe­cial but it is also not par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar. At Tesco for ex­am­ple tur­key breast is al­most ex­actly the same price as chicken breast, while a tur­key drum­stick is, per kilo­gram, con­sid­er­ably cheaper than a chicken thigh, and yet it is the cluck-cluck not the gob­ble-gob­ble that dom­i­nates the su­per­mar­ket shelf.

Three hun­dred and sixty four days a year most of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion don’t care for tur­key. I have, for ex­am­ple, never been of­fered a tur­key nib­ble or as far as I can re­mem­ber ever eaten it either for Sun­day lunch or at a din­ner party. There is no tur­key on the menu of our most pop­u­lar mid­dle mar­ket restau­rant chains such Cote Brasserie, Prezzo or Wether­spoons. And there is no fin­ger lickin’ tur­key at KFC or flame-grilled peri peri tur­key wing at Nando’s. Mcdon­ald’s sells chicken nuggets, chicken ‘se­lects’ and five dif­fer­ent types of chicken wrap but pooh poohs a tur­key nugget or a tur­key wrap. And where is the tur­key biriyani, balti or tikka masala? Our only nod to tur­key fast food has been the Twiz­zler, which had a very brief out­ing be­fore it was banned from school meals in 2005 and fi­nally dis­ap­peared when Bernard Matthews stopped mak­ing it.”

The nice thing about tur­key is it’s al­most like us­ing a blank can­vas,” says Peggy Al­bert­son, the PR for Amer­ica’s Tur­key Fed­er­a­tion. What she means is that it is bland. Her re­mark goes some way to ex­plain­ing why tur­key burg­ers are a sta­ple of US fast food joints and tur­key is the choice for ev­ery cel­e­bra­tory meal in the States.

But in Bri­tain we en­joy stronger fare, which is why it is baf­fling that we choose tur­key for our Christ­mas din­ner. Lamb on the other hand is not bland. It rep­re­sents Christ and is a sac­ri­fi­cial an­i­mal that sym­bol­ises gen­tle­ness, pu­rity and, by luck, the Cotswolds. If we had had got our mar­ket­ing right 70 years ago the whole world might not only be dream­ing about our hills but also eat­ing mut­ton rather than a Mc­gob­bler on Christ­mas Day.

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