Oddly enough, here in the UK there isn’t much interest in celebrating the American Pilgrims’ survival of religious persecution and New England winters. So this year I’ll be making the traditional American dry turkey shreds here in Scotland and giving thanks that we’re not sitting on that 5+ feet of snow blanketing parts of the US. I’m also thankful for the lovely Patricia Sands, who just became the 1700th person to follow this little blog. Thank you Patricia, and all the incredible, funny, smart, and generous people I’ve met since starting this blog. I wish I could give you each some of our candied sweet potatoes. (No, seriously. I can’t stand that stuff. It’s all got to go…)
Meanwhile, here’s a blast-from-the-past from my column-writing days. (Published: Champaign Urbana News-Gazette, November, 1991)
The Middle East? The economy? National health coverage? Anti-or pro-choice? How to cook the perfect turkey?
Guess which question is on the minds of the 248,709,873 Americans preparing to shred 535 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving Day. (Actually, 248,709,872 Americans — my 7-year-old prefers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.)
My 7-year-old: Q. Which side of a turkey has the most feathers? A. The outside.
It’s no surprise that modern cooks are confused about turkeys. In 1621 our pilgrim forefathers, after surviving starvation and disease, not to mention fear of witches, Native Americans, and our pilgrim foremothers, crawled out of their pilgrim forehuts and stood around making gobbling noises.
To local turkeys, these irresistible noises said, “Hey, sailor, new in town?”
Our pilgrim forefathers promptly invented Thanksgiving. Every year after that, Americans would go outside, make gobbling noises, and bring home a turkey. But there have been changes since those pilgrim forebirds. Modern turkeys are naked, frozen, keep their bodily organs in plastic baggies, and are (after years of scientific breeding at the Dolly Parton Research Institute) 95% breast meat.
They are also so much larger that Americans who make the traditional gobbling noises are actually trying to say, “I have just suffered serious physical damage from lifting that sucker and I don’t think I’ll be able to have children.”
My 9-year-old: Q. How do you tell a turkey from an elephant? A. If you don’t know, I’m not eating Thanksgiving dinner at your house.
HOW TO FIX THE PERFECT TURKEY
Americans attach too much importance to Thanksgiving turkey. After all, even if you do blow the main dish of the single, most important meal of the year and are branded a pathetic, incompetent failure in front of your in-laws, family, and friends, the dog will still love you. Probably. If she gets the scraps.
“But Barb,” you protest, “surely there is A Better Way.” To you Norman Rockwell wannabes I say, “Marge Klindera.” Marge is a supervisor for the 45 turkey mavens at the Butterball Turkey Talk Line. They ministered to over 220,000 cases of turkey-trauma last year, 6600 on T-Day alone, from desperate chefs who wanted to know:
- What if you live in Seattle and on Thanksgiving day yours is one of 20,000 homes where the power goes out during peak roasting hours? (And what if someone –we’re not naming names, but he’ll be on sofa sentry until next Thanksgiving — forgot to turn off the grill last time and the propane is all gone? Time for the traditional Thanksgiving bonfire. All those booklets from the power company pointing out that your neighbors are much better at saving energy than you will make excellent fuel. For that festive yet personalized touch, I hear Martha Stewart Online has instructions for making a homemade burnable effigy of power company executives.)
- What if you forget you’ve put Tom in the bathtub to defrost and all of a sudden you notice you’re showering with the main course? (This little secret is between you and Tom, and I don’t think he’s going to talk.)
- What if you’ve cooked the turkey in its plastic wrapper and you wonder if those blue and yellow markings on its skin are edible? (Marge seems like a very nice person. I really don’t think she makes this stuff up…)
- What if you can’t find the neck cavity for stuffing because you’ve never had a relationship with a turkey who wasn’t past tense, so you’re not sure exactly which opening represented his neck when he was present tense?
- (My personal favorite) What if your kitten crawls into the turkey and falls asleep and as you’re about to pop it in the oven you notice a long furry tail hanging out which you’re pretty sure is not standard-issue turkey equipment?
- Make stuffing. There are only two ways to make stuffing; your mother’s way and the wrong way.
- If you don’t remove the little plastic bag of giblets before cooking, your turkey will not be ruined. Your family, however, will be physically incapable of saying the word ‘Thanksgiving’ without mentioning this incident. (“Remember the time back in ’91 when Great-Great-Grandma cooked the plastic bag inside the turkey?” “Yeah, that was pretty funny. Um… what’s a turkey?” “I dunno… what’s a Grandma?”)
- Rub skin with vegetable oil and place turkey on a flat rack. Cook at 325 degrees until golden brown, tenting the breast area with foil to keep it from drying out. Turkey is done when a meat thermometer says 180-185 degrees, NOT when your husband says the guests are going to start eating the piano if they don’t get some dinner soon.
“But you don’t want to overcook it as it could become dry, tough, and shredded when carved,” advises Marge. (Come on, Marge — how could it be Thanksgiving without the traditional turkey shreds?)
MORE HOMEMADE TURKEY JOKES
My 7-year-old: Q. What do you get when you cross a turkey with an octopus? A. Finally, enough drumsticks to go around.
My 5-year-old: Q. Why did the turkey cross the road? A. It was the chicken’s day off.