Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkeys at the Table

by Joanne Kennedy
When we gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, we should recognize the fine qualities of the all-American turkey - you know, the extraordinarily fat, round one lying flat on his back with his legs sticking up in the air. No, I'm not talking about Grandpa Joe over there on the sofa digesting his dinner; I'm talking about the actual turkey.


His supine pose isn't the only similarity the festive fowl bears to your family and friends. Take a good look at a real live turkey sometime. A tom turkey has a wrinkly face, beetled brows, wattles, and hair in his ears - just like Grandpa Joe. He's constantly red in the face from exertion and fury, and is so profoundly overweight that he has difficulty standing upright even when he's not watching a bowl game on ESPN. Hens, on the other hand, are thinner and seem to be in a perpetual state of frazzled panic - just like the cook in the kitchen.


Glancing around the table, you might note other similarities between turkeys and humans. For example, only the males "gobble," while the hens "chatter." And like Grandpa Joe, boy turkeys are all bluster and no bite. A turkey will chase you, but he won't actually attack (hence the term "jive turkey"). As a matter of fact, turkeys are so timid that the Apaches refused to use their feathers on their arrows. They knew that turkeys are chicken.


So when the "toms" at the table want to argue about politics or the relative merits of the Broncos over the Cowboys, just wait them out. They'll eventually go to roost, wattles wobbling, indignant but harmless.


Behind all the bluster, the turkey is a noble creature. In fact, it's widely rumored that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird.


This is a myth. In reality, he thought the turkey on the national seal was so badly drawn it looked like a turkey. In a letter to his daughter, he declared that this was not a bad thing, because the turkey is, "though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

I suspect Grandpa Joe would attack the Grenadier, too.

If you calculate the ages of your children in turkey years, your eleven-year-old has ceased to be a poult and has become a young roaster. (If you call him this, you'll probably get to see a preview of the bluster he'll perfect by the time he reaches Grandpa Joe's age.) At around twenty, your young roaster will be mature - or at least he would be if he was a turkey. Of course, he'd also be displayed belly-up in the freezer case at the local Safeway, so be grateful that your child is not poultry.

As you eat your plate of turkey this year, you can also be grateful that your brain is bigger than the turkey's (which is the size of a walnut and boasts about as much wattage as the brain of a cockroach) and that your position on the food chain is a little higher up than the denizen of your dinner plate.


The preceding fabulous factoids are due to my failure as a Thanksgiving chef. I had to offer research rather than recipes because my rendition of the holiday meal involves Safeway's deli counter and Swanson Frozen Entrees. But this year I'm actually going to cook! So please offer any fool-proof (a.k.a. Joanne-proof) recipes and culinary disaster-aversion techniques in the comments!

23 comments:

  1. I love turkey and cranberry sauce, so I do appreciate the all American turkey. Yum! My brother shot a wild turkey for Thanksgiving once, but I didn't get to taste it. My family said it was good, but different.

    Turkeys are funny looking creatures with all that wrinkly skin and brilliant colors, like they put on too much eyeshadow and blush.

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  2. Really cute, Joanne!!! Well, I've cooked the turkey dinner for years, but this year, my daughters doing the honors, and I'm really excited. I'm bringing a big chocolate cake with a turkey pictured on it. Compliments of the grocery store!

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  3. That was a grand post! What I know about turkeys has to do with growing up down wind of a turkey farm... which is NOT where you want to be on the four days a year they clean the place up between batches of fowl.

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  4. Fun stuff, Joanne, even if it isn't edible!

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  5. You're right, Anita - turkeys wear all that trampy seventies makeup! I've never tried wild turkey either, though my son-in-law hunts and I love deer and elk.

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  6. Grocery store cake is just my style, Terry! I can probably manage the turkey, but baking never turns out right. We're at high altitude here in Cheyenne, which doesn't help.

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  7. Grace, I'd forgotten how bad turkeys smell or I would have added that to the post! There was a turkey farm in my hometown, too, and it was awful to be downwind of it!

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  8. You think that's true that Indians wouldn't use turkey feathers on their arrows? Hmm.

    As for cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I don't remember who wrote it but someone said buy the food from all your favorite restaurants. Now that's an idea I'm really into!
    Amelia

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  9. Too funny, Joanne! As someone who appreciates a box of Stove Top stuffing and frozen Mrs. Smith pumkin pies with Cool Whip, I say go for the easy method of "fake" cooking.

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  10. Joanne, you're so witty! Thanks for lots of smiles this AM.

    My advice, if you've never done Thanksgiving dinner before, is "fake it."

    The turkey is the star, but also takes the longest time to cook, and requires judgement. There's a lot of room for error.

    Ditto dressing.There's no such thing as an accurate dressing recipe which, if slavishly followed, is guaranteed to be good. Every single ingredient, and the mixing thereof, is a judgment call. (Although, if you do decide to make dressing, use Stove Top.)

    Every major grocery deli offers a turkey, dressing, and gravy special. Give thanks, and put in your order today. Then make whatever side dishes you wish to. Most are easy, and many can be made ahead.

    Remember that what makes the day memorable is the love and good times shared--not fabulous sweet potato soufflé. So enjoy yourself and your company.

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  11. Well.... you asked for easy Thanskgiving cooking tips.... We actually cook two turkey breasts rather than a whole turkey. And I always get the self basting turkeys that have the little pop out tester that shows when they're done. If you lay some fress rosemary along the top as it cooks.... perfection!

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  12. Reservations! 'Nuf said. Gobble, gobble, gobble.

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  13. Amelia - I can't say I have a faultless source for the Apache turkey-feather anecdote. But the whoe "turkeys are chicken" thing made me laugh.
    Buying the food works for me, as long as it doesn't mean people have to work on the holiday...

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  14. Olivia, thaks for the culinary wisdom! You're a chef after my own heart!

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  15. Thanks, Mary Margret! Great recommendations. My biggest problem is usually getting everything to come out at the same time. And I get to talking to guests and forget what I'm doing!

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  16. Mmm, rosemary - I might try that, Catherine! And there would be no fighting over the white meat.

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  17. Mmm, rosemary - I might try that, Catherine! And there would be no fighting over the white meat.

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  18. Robin, I'm thinking some Domestic God should come cook your dinner in exchange for being immortalized in one of your books. But reservations might work better...

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  19. Love, love your post ... I could visual lots of my own relatives who look like T. T. (Tom Turkey)! And my handsome cowboy son and son-in-law can run a turkey some stiff competition for strutting!
    Tips: Delegate! This one brings the turkey and dressing. That one is responsible for the sweet potato casserole...and that one for the potato salad, etc. You supply the fancy China and candles for the middle of the table.

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  20. LOL Joanne!

    My mom is great with the dinners and I picked it up from her. We did the dining out, etc. when her health started going down and just cook all out for Christmas.

    I remember our visiting a turkey farm for our holiday birds when I was little. I knew one of those crazy birds would up as our dinner and that was fine me.

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  21. Carolyn, how 'bout I just come to your house and enjoy all the strutting?!?! Sounds like fun to me! I'll bet you put on a great Thanksgiving.

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  22. Linda, I'm not sure I could look my dinner in the eye and enjoy the meal! I try not to get emotionally involved with my food:)
    Wish I could just go to my parents for Thanksgiving - they're across the country, and the bookstore can't spare many of us over the holidays. I got to go back a couple years ago. My folks are great foodies, so they make the best meal! Too bad it didn't rub off on the offspring!

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  23. Wonderful, Joanne! Turkey factoids! If you have a slow cooker, it makes for a tender turkey. If not, lots of basting. Hope that helps a little.

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