November 17, 2005

The Turkey Responsibility

It's time to think about cooking that Thanksgiving turkey. Decisions, decisions. Fresh? Frozen? Whole Bird? Turkey Breast? Roasted? Fried? Injected? Order it fully cooked from the grocery store? Eat dinner at Luby's Cafeteria? There are a lot of choices these days.

In my family, the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner has traditionally been shared amongst all of the women. Everyone contributes a dish. My mom or aunt always did the turkey and dressing. My cousin and I, or various other relatives, always brought the vegetables, dessert and rolls.

One year while we were in the kitchen getting things ready, it occurred to me that I had no clue about how to actually shop for or cook a turkey. Up until that time, I only had a vague idea of what was involved (i.e. you had to get up early). It struck me then, that someday my mom and aunt weren't going to be there, and that the younger generation would be depending on us.

This realization marked the end of any thoughts I may have still harbored about feeling young. My cousin or I responsible for the turkey? Yikes!

It was time to learn how. I volunteered to fix the turkey the next holiday. Buying the turkey and cooking it was much more complex than just sitting down at the table and choosing either white meat or dark. How many pounds should I buy? Then, how to thaw it out? Did I have a cooking pan that was large enough? Was it done yet? Oops, don't forget the giblet gravy. All those details were almost overwhelming to me. I got through it the first time (and the second and third) with many phone calls to my mom.

Since then, I've used the oven cooking bag method, the paper bag method, and the frozen turkey with and without a pop-up timer. Last year I was in a location where a fresh turkey was easily found, so I tried that. The fresh variety sure took care of the defrosting question.

From now on, if I have the opportunity, I'll choose fresh. Or, if the snow gods are good, I'll choose Park City and skiing over the Thanksgiving holiday. There are worse things than having Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant at a ski resort.

For those of you facing your first turkey and all those decisions, there's plenty of help available. Butterball traditionally offers assistance, now providing the choice of 1) visiting their website, 2) calling 1-800-BUTTERBALL or 3) emailing the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (see their website).

Your trusty government offers helpful online advice and recommendations at their USDA website with a list of links to their Fact Sheets which cover various turkey issues.

You may have wondered, since the topic of this blog is food company cookbooks, if I would ever get through my reminiscing and mention them. Yes, I'll do that now.

In the past there have been many recipe booklets published that have to do with Thanksgiving Dinner and the Turkey. Here are several examples that focus primarily on the turkey portion of the dinner:

Talking About Turkey: How to Buy, Store, Thaw, Stuff, and Prepare Your Holiday Bird

Home and Garden Bulletin No. 243 - (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1984, 20 pages) This booklet contains the information the title says it does. A great basic, no-nonsense, no-frills guide.

In comparing it to the current USDA Fact Sheet, I noticed that the only thing that had changed since 1984 was the adjustment of some of the time allowed for roasting and thawing. They're still pretty much in the same ballpark.

Talk'N Cook with Butterball

(Swift & Co. (Swift/Hunt-Wesson Foods), 1984, 12 pages) Some Q&A, Comparison of Roasting Methods and Special Tips, Recipes for Turkey and Turkey leftovers.

Some of the recipes are Breast of Turkey with Apple Raisin Sauce, Hot and Spicey BBQ Turkey, Tex-Mex Turkey and Cheesy Turkey Chowder.

Always in Good Taste...Butterball

(Swift & Co. (an ESMARK Company), not dated, 12 pages)

Tips, Comparison of Turkey Roasting Methods, and several recipes for accompaniments like stuffings, vegetables, salad and dessert, and recipes for turkey leftovers.

Some of the recipes are Pear Stuffed Squash, Maple Pecan Pie, "Lite" Mushroom Stuffing and Turkey Italiano.

Turkey Everyday and Holidays

(Poultry and Egg National Board, not dated, circa 1950's, 32 pages)

Contains turkey cooking methods, carving, general information, recipes for Main Dishes, (oven and top of range), Salads, Sandwiches and Stuffing/Dressing

This vintage booklet talks about how "modern" turkeys come in forms to meet any demand--large or small, halves or quarters, disjointed and cut up, or by-the-piece. "Formerly turkey was largely restricted to roasting--Now there is a size and style so that turkey can be barbecued, broiled, fried, or fricasseed...for "everyday" meals and "holiday" dinners."


At 4:50 PM CST, Blogger Darth Weasel said...

What the world REALLY need (besides love, according to the song) is Turkey for the Squeamish. I was going to make one for the first time ever last year until I watched a friend pulling that stuff out...I just could not bring myself to do it. I love turkey, but my turkey enjoyment unfortunately relies on less squeamish people to clean it or living vicariously through peeps like you.


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