TURKEY TALES AND OTHER KITCHEN CALAMITIES
by Donald Downes
Would it be
Thanksgiving without a turkey? I don’t think so. While the world
continually changes, we Americans connect with custom, like a
traditional Thanksgiving Day feast — roasted turkey and all the
In college, now
nearly three decades ago, Thanksgiving Day dinners often ended
up being Swanson turkey TV dinners. We were snowed-in; the roads
were closed. Still we had turkey, some form of it. During my
professional careers, I gathered with friends, mostly, for
traditional turkey day feasts where the guest of honor was,
indeed, Tom Turkey. We usually managed to assemble a collection
of the customary side dishes, too — stuffing, potatoes, green
Several years ago,
however, the traditional feast took a different course. Several
days before the event, the host had to abandon original plans.
The new plan was to have all gather at the home of the host’s
neighbor. While there was still time to thaw (quickly) and cook
a turkey — I inquired and even offered my professional
turkey-cooking skills, complete with the turkey — I was told
everything was being handled. But on that particular Turkey Day,
the turkey was missing. No aroma of a cooking turkey filled the
house; no bird was present to carve. No juices were available
for gravy; no cavity contained steaming stuffing. It was a
Thanksgiving Day dinner of side dishes and a few pieces of
overcooked barbecued chicken, procured from a local eatery.
While we did give thanks for being together, it just wasn’t
Growing up, many of
us experienced the “Norman Rockwell” Thanksgiving dinner spread
— family and friends sitting around a large dining table laden
with a colossal golden turkey, dressing, potatoes and side
dishes galore. Sometimes, though, reality steps (or stomps) in:
The hoped-for, picture-perfect celebration turns out to be a
“turkey,” a Thanksgiving dinner disaster. Tales of turkey day
traumas, however, do make for a good giggle — a few years later.
turkey company, has been collecting tales from its Turkey
Talk-Line for years. Among the best is the one about the trucker
who phoned in and said he planned on cooking his turkey on the
engine of his truck. He wanted to know if it would cook faster
if he drove faster. Though outrageous, Butterball insists the
tales are true.
While ruffled home cooks have been
the focus of many turkey trauma stories, professional chefs,
too, have tales of kitchen woes.
The aroma of turkey
Chrysa Kaufman, chef and co-proprietor of
Scottsdale’s Rancho Pinot Grill and the new Nonni’s in Phoenix,
relates this turkey tale.
“I was up in
Wyoming and my brother and brother-in-law shot a turkey,” begins
Kaufman. “We weren’t going to be able to get together for the
holidays, but we were all together in Wyoming at the same time.
So we thought we’ll cook it and have our turkey dinner.
“Well, it was the
end of August, and they put it in the basement to hang, thinking
that it was cool enough. I didn’t know it was still down there
and they opened the door to the cellar. It stunk so bad. But my
brother was bound and determined [to cook it] and said [the
smell] was just age. He put it in the oven and actually baked
it. No one would go near this thing. We ended up throwing it
out. I think the porcupines ate it.”
According to Kaufman, the family
takes its Thanksgiving turkeys “damn seriously.” Whoever in the
family that does the dinner evidently gets up at five in the
morning to put the turkey in the oven, then keeps watch until
it’s done. Once cooked, Fred, Sam, Pete or whoever is ready to
meet the family.
thing we do,” she adds. “We always name our turkeys. My sister
was a vegetarian at one time when she was younger. And she would
say I’m not going to eat that thing; it was alive once. So we
said let’s give it a name and say thank you, Fred for giving
yourself to us, or something like that. We were mocking her
severely. So we’ve always named our turkeys. We put him on the
table and everybody applauds. We say thank you Fred or whatever
and dive in.”
The wild, aromatic
turkey was dubbed Stench.
Frozen in time
chef and proprietor of Mosaic, a new restaurant in north
Scottsdale, tells the tale of the first Thanksgiving, her first
Thanksgiving dinner as cook. Seems she and her four college
friends did not go home for Thanksgiving and decided to have
their own celebration. It was a spur of the moment thing. The
group picked up a turkey and fixin’s for the fixin’s on the
afternoon of Thanksgiving Day.
“I had had no
experience doing Thanksgiving; my parents had always done it,”
says Knight. “I pulled the turkey out at 4 o’clock, called my
mother and asked how long will it cook.”
Knight says the
turkey was still frozen and her mother laughed when she inquired
about the cooking time.
“Needless to say,
we didn’t have dinner until about 2 o’clock in the morning.”
The 10-pound block
of solid turkey was thawed using the microwave and water. The
dinner also included stuffing, potatoes, peas and, of course,
gravy. Says Knight: “We had plenty of time to prepare the side
Knight’s sous chef
at the restaurant related a story to her about turkey a la
“flambé.” Seems the doomed cook had tried to bake a turkey in a
butter-saturated paper bag. The theory being the enclosed
environment would make for a really moist turkey. The bag,
however, caught fire. Result: No turkey; no oven.
Know your turkey
RoxSand Scocos, owner and proprietor of
RoxSand restaurant and bar in Phoenix’s Biltmore Fashion Park,
tells of a tale about an aunt and her turkey day trauma.
“There’s an aunt
that’s not especially liked by the other sister-in-laws,” Scocos
says. “She’s a sister-in-law who is real prim and fancy and not
very capable in the eyes of the other women in the family. This
particular aunt was going to be doing Thanksgiving dinner for
the family that year. Everyone was all excited to have her meal.
When they carved open the turkey, all of the stuff that’s inside
the turkey [before cooking] — like the wrapper of the gizzard,
the paper — all of that stuff was inside of it still. I don’t
think she’ll ever live it down. Everyone got a chuckle out of
remove the packages that contain the innards and neck is a
common calamity. Remember: turkeys have two ends; each
contains a parcel of giblets. For additional cooking tips and
general turkey-cooking information log-on to www.butterball.com.
This year’s Turkey
Day is nearing. Should things in your kitchen go slightly awry
on that day, don’t fret. You are in good company. Even the pros
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