Friday, February 19, 2016

Research for Fiction Writing - The Pheasant

A pheasant before all that
hunting and prepping business.
I am always amused by where I end up when doing research for my fiction writing.  You know how it goes - you want to write a few sentences about some topic or other, and the next thing you know you've spent five hours on the internet learning all about it so those sentences are at least somewhat informed.

Before writing the scene I just finished, I had no interest in learning about how to hunt and then prep a pheasant for consumption.  And then one of my characters in this scene decided to hunt and prep a pheasant for consumption.  Again, you know how it goes ...

I really knew nothing about it at all.  I imagined I'd just have my character saunter off, shoot a pheasant (bow and arrow, we are talking fantasy here) then roast and eat said pheasant.  Then I got to thinking ... what about all those old-timey movies and paintings showing pheasants and rabbits and such hanging from the ceiling?  What's the deal there?  And what about the game Skyrim?  Can't walk thirty paces without running into rabbits and pheasants hanging from metal contraptions or even fallen on the floor.

Pheasant and rabbit hung
from ceiling - as one does.
My character was out camping, so he really didn't have the time to hang a pheasant from the back of his horse for a day or a month or whatever.  And then I'd assume when he finally ate it, it would probably taste a lot like the back of his horse.  Maybe this pheasant idea would not work out after all.  But characters, as you know, can be persistent.

So off to the wonderful world of the internet.  I'm a bit squeamish, so this was not easy research.  I did find out that yes, one basically saunters off and just shoots a pheasant.  Takes time, know-how, skill, and the rest that you'd expect, but no magic there (which is funny, again since I am writing a bit of fantasy at the moment).  Ok.  Only have to watch for shots that tear the gut open and might contaminate the meat.  Lovely.  So my character happens to be an excellent shot ... And of course with a shotgun there is actual bits of metal in your bird to avoid, but again, I'm in a bow-and-arrow situation.

So, we assume bird-in-hand, literally.  Now what?  Well, as it turns out, that whole hanging thing is really just for birds that are other than very young ones.  The young ones are tender enough without hanging.  BUT of course, most birds in the wild are not very young just statistically speaking.  Most are middle aged, and some are rather old.  So hanging a pheasant was sort of required to ensure it was tender.

Let me be more specific.  Hanging a pheasant.  Some sites recommended three to seven days.  Of just hanging at cool, not cold, temperatures.  Not hot at all, because that would be gross, but not actually wintertime sort of stuff, either.  So you just go ahead and hang the pheasant from it's head, not upside down.  And let it ... sit ... there.   For days.   Or more.  Some sites suggest that in ye olden dayes, people would allow the pheasant to hang until it was so ... rotted ... it dropped.  And then you knew the meat would be tender.  Seriously.

I think I'll chalk this up to my naivete.  Chalk up the fact that this had never occurred to me.  All the press and advertising around food is about how it should be fresh.  So very fresh.  Well, apparently you do not want old pheasant meat to be fresh.  Apparently you can eat it rather ... not so fresh.

Whatever.  I had what I needed for my character.  In the end, yes, he just sauntered out and shot a pheasant.  Because, aha!  It just so happened to be a young pheasant.  No need for it to hang from the back of the horse until it fell apart.  Yea!

Still.  There is the preparation to consider.  And so I read more about plucking pheasants when they are cold and hot and wet and dry and warm and whatever to really keep me satisfied for some time.  I'll not put the specifics down.  But I know a heck of a lot about plucking pheasants now. (Yes there is a naughty little song about this, let's not go there.)

And as with most of this fiction-style research, it isn't really going to be terribly useful now that the scene is written.

Image Credits:  Pheasant.  Used under Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, author Lukasz Lukasik.  Hanging Hare and Pheasant, 1798, Swiss National Library, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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