Downsizing Christmas this year? How about half a turkey for the table? Paul Kelly, whose free-range KellyBronze turkeys are a favourite with Nigella, Jamie and Delia and regularly win awards, is introducing a 'Demi KellyBronze' – a 5-6kg turkey cut in half to provide five to six servings. It is an approach he tried a few years ago but it didn’t fly; 2020 however, says Kelly, “might be a year for its revival.”
With the likelihood that there won’t be more than six people around the table on December 25, he could well be right. Some farmers saw the writing on the Christmas wall as early as spring this year. Mark Chilcott, who farms turkeys in Dorset, usually supplies whopping 10kg birds which would feed 20, but this year he ordered chicks from a small breed in anticipation of fewer people tucking in at the Christmas dinner.
Richard Griffiths, the chief executive of the British Poultry Council, told the Telegraph that, with rearing starting around April, it’s much too late now for most farmers to switch to smaller breeds, but "we could slaughter some birds early," in order to provide a smaller serve, "but they would have to be frozen.”
For all the snobbery that surrounds frozen meat, professional freezing works well. If it was a good bird before it was frozen, it will still be good after. But younger animals won’t have developed the full flavour so these immature turkeys may be disappointing.
According to Kelly, the days of the massive turkey are long gone anyway. “The reality is that the trend towards buying smaller turkeys has been going on for the past 15 years," he says. "80 per cent of our orders are for 4-5kg turkeys which are eight to 10 servings.” Many families will have at least one vegetarian at the Christmas table, and there is a tendency for all of us to eat a bit less meat.
As with turkeys, so it is with the traditional Christmas cakes and puddings. Most will be made months, if not a full year, ahead. Which means that eating your plum pudding this year will be a sort of bizarre time travel: it will have been made before Covid-19 was even a word. Rolling out new sizes may simply not be an option.
The supermarkets I spoke to wouldn’t admit to making any changes, although Booths told me, “we’ve reviewed our forecasts with suppliers and increased the range of products that serve six.” It seems likely the other supermarkets are frantically reframing their orders as well, and we may see more goose – a six-person bird – as well as duck on the butcher's counter.
So far, the signs are that despite the uncertainty surrounding Christmas gatherings, we aren’t budging when it comes to bird size. “People are still upbeat and ordering the same size turkey as usual," says Claire Symington of Seldom Seen Farm in Leicestershire, where she and her husband, Robert, raise free-range geese and turkeys . "No one has asked for a smaller one," she says; instead, the general feeling is that "the turkeys are the size they are and we are looking forward to leftovers.”
For who doesn’t think that turkey sarnies are the best part of the season? As Kelly points out, Christmas falls on a Friday this year and bird serving eight to 10 will only leave two to four servings worth for sandwiches, salads or curry: “not a huge amount given the long weekend,” he says.
Wise customers will be ordering ahead. “The only thing that has changed is that our orders for home deliveries are up 300 per cent year on year,” says Kelly, and since most of the best suppliers run out before Christmas anyway, this may well mean that stocks dry up earlier than usual.
It might be down to the five million or so Brits who usually jet off to foreign shores for the festive season and instead will be hunkering down at home, or perhaps because people aren’t banking on being able to eat out in a pub, hotel or restaurant on December 25. For whatever reason, with of all this uncertainty plenty of us are making sure of one thing – the arrival of the Christmas bird.