Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Thanksgiving Turkey

My mother-in-law loved having company. And she loved serving that company lots and lots of food. She also was very careful about her cooking. She was very concerned about people not getting sick because of her cooking. There were only two problems: she never really learned how to cook and she actually hated cooking.

One item that seemed to confound her was roasting a turkey. Luckily she only attempted this on Thanksgiving.

Each year on Thanksgiving we would go to hers and my father-in-law's house for Thanksgiving dinner. She had a stove in the kitchen and three stoves in the basement. I was never sure where the three in the basement came from. But she liked using them most because it didn't heat up the kitchen. But that was fine since the finished basement was where all parties and large meals were served.

When we arrived Evelyn and Smoky would be busy finishing up all of the things being served for dinner. She had made the turkey along with Polish sausage, ham, mashed potatoes, and a couple of different kinds of vegetables. Smoky would usually be busy slicing up fresh veggies for a snack for us all before dinner. During this time we'd get to hear of that year's problem with the turkey.

Each year there seemed to be a different reason why the turkey that was in the oven downstairs was not the originally purchased turkey. Luckily she prepared the turkey for roasting on the day before Thanksgiving. She needed to make sure she had time in case it didn't meet with her expectations. And if it didn't, she would send Smokey back to the store where it was purchased, on the day before Thanksgiving, to return it and get a new one.

You're probably confused right now. I was too when I first joined her family for Thanksgiving. But it seemed like she rarely could get a good turkey the first time. What problems?  Things for which turkeys were returned included a blood spot under the skin, a broken wingtip, a tiny feather that hadn't been plucked. And one year was my favorite of all -- when she reached inside the cavity to clean the bird it felt like it hadn't been cleaned enough.

So, she would finally have to settle on a second fresh turkey each year. She would get it ready for cooking the night before and leave it in one of the refrigerators. Oh yes, she had several of those as well. Then she would get up early on Thanksgiving morning to get the turkey in the oven by 6 AM. She told me one year that she had been told that to make sure the turkey was ready it needed to be started at 6. And that she needed to make sure a turkey was well cooked to avoid sickening people. What someone had neglected to tell her was that starting the bird a 6 was for a noon dinner. We ate at 4 PM.

Luckily with so many alternatives for dinner, we could all take a piece of what had become something closer to turkey leather then leave it on our plates.

I'm not sure of the actual circumstances that occurred one year because I was in the hospital with pneumonia. But apparently she finally asked why no one ate the turkey. My husband, Joe, the middle child, supposedly told her that the turkey was too dry to eat.

The next year we got to their house for Thanksgiving. She asked me to go down and check on the turkey as she had tried a new method of cooking the bird.

I opened the oven on stove number one and found a roasting pan sealed in aluminum foil so I assumed that wasn't the turkey. I checked the second oven and found a similar fully sealed roaster. When the third oven appeared to contain the same I asked which oven held the turkey? The middle was the reply.

So I uncovered the pan there...

And yes, she had tried an alternate method. When I asked her to come down, she told me that to make it moister, she treated it the same way she made all of her beef roasts. She poured a packet of dried onion soup mix followed by a can of cream of mushroom soup. Then sealed it all and started it a 6 AM. The result was a turkey carcass standing in a mixture of gray goop.

None of us ate turkey that year. And for a few years after, her other daughters-in-law and I would take turn cooking the turkey and bringing it with us for dinner. For many years now, her son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Donna, host Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family. The turkey is a wonderful part of the whole feast.

The saddest part of Thanksgivings now is the loss of both Smoky and Evelyn. She may be embarrassed to listen to us talk of her turkey disasters. But I hope she sees us smiling as we really do know that the reason for the fuss was all out of love to make sure we all were healthy and happy.

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