Everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving Bird
November 23, 2021
A native to North America, this bird – which takes center stage this week – is, perhaps, the best representative of all that is uniquely American.
The turkey, it turns out, has been around a long time. According to the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The earliest turkeys evolved in North America over 20 million years ago and they share a recent common ancestor with grouse, pheasants, and other fowl. The wild turkey species is the ancestor of the domestic turkey, which was domesticated approximately 2,000 years ago.”
The Aztec culture developed a myriad of recipes for the fowl, many of which are still used in Mexico today. We know that the turkey was known in North America when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, documented as being served at the first Thanksgiving.
Since then, the turkey has come to be THE meat to serve on the fourth Thursday in November and, for many families, at their Christmas feast also.
Of course there is a good case to be made for cooking a turkey. The size of the fowl, unlike a chicken, make it possible to feed a large group with just one bird. The Guiness Book of World Records tells us:
“The greatest dressed weight recorded for a turkey is 39.09 kg (86 lb) for a stag named Tyson reared by Philip Cook of Leacroft Turkeys Ltd, Peterborough, United Kingdom. It won the last annual `heaviest turkey’ competition, held in London on 12 December 1989, and was auctioned for charity for a record £;4400 (then $6,692).”
That’s a lot of leftovers!
Some of my earliest childhood memories center around Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners both of which featured a large turkey.
Because the family ate ‘dinner’ at noon, that meant my mother (or my aunt if we were going to their house) was up at four a.m. to get the bird in the oven. It was always a treat to awaken to the smell of roasting turkey.
My job, when I was a child, was to set the table with my mother’s china. Oh how I loved the anticipation of that meal.
It was sometime in the mid-1980’s when I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal. After the hubby and I married in 1980, we ping-ponged between our two families, never giving a thought as to the work it took to create the feast.
Our first Thanksgiving as a married couple found us in Blaine with his family. When we walked into his parent’s turn of the century farm house that November 27th, the kitchen was in a state of being updated. The hubby’s dad had recently built an ‘island’ in the middle of the kitchen to house the pride and joy of my mother-in-law’s kitchen: a Jenn-Air cooktop.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, the original Jenn-Air was a cooktop only and featured burners, grills, and griddles which were all a standard shape and size. These cartridges were ‘plugged’ into a power source. The typical Jenn-Air had two cartridge slots on either side with a down draft fan in the center; you mixed and match your elements. It was easy, for example, to remove the two burner cartridge and plug in the grill.
My mother-in-law was VERY excited to use her new cooktop. There was only one problem… it was a cooktop and, at that time, there was not a conventional oven in the kitchen.
Which brings us back to the issue of cooking a turkey. No matter how wonderful the Jenn-Air cooktop might be, it wasn’t going to be able to cook a 12 to 16 pound bird.
But never fear, dear readers, because there was another new – unknown technology – appliance in the house that year: the microwave oven.
Now, in 1980 hardly anyone understood the advantages or disadvantages of the microwave. In fact, only some 25 percent of U.S. households owned one. The average new microwave cost about $400 which in 2021 dollars is about $1300. Microwave manufacturers were busy touting how great this new ‘oven’ was. We had all been told that the microwave could do everything a traditional oven could do, but would take less time and cook more efficiently.
And that’s how we ended up eating a Turkey cooked entirely in a microwave! That bird got flipped and turned more times than an Olympic Pairs figure skater. And it took much, much longer than anyone could anticipate. For HOURS the microwave was cooking that bird with, it seemed, minimal impact.
Finally, rather late in the day, the turkey was declared done and dinner was served.
The turkey was nearly inedible.
Rather than a nice roasted brown color, it was gray. There was no crispiness to the skin, no yummy juice coating it.
When the knife cut into the bird for carving, the meat was stringy and tough.
Of course we all made the best of the situation. And it was a rapid learning event in regards to microwaves. They are great for some things, but not for cooking whole turkeys (or other poultry and meats in my opinion).
I also SHOULD have learned that doing kitchen remodels on top of a major holiday is a bad idea. Unfortunately, it was a lesson that I promptly forgot on several occasions in subsequent years. But that’s a story (or two) for another day.
This year I am the one hosting Thanksgiving and am thankful that my in laws will be joining us on Thursday. My turkey will never see the inside of a microwave. Call me a traditionalist, but there are some things which are sacred. A properly cooked Thanksgiving turkey is one of them.
I purposefully didn’t comment on this photo which I posted on Facebook along with the link to this article. Why? This was from Thanksgiving a few years ago when the larger of our two ovens ‘failed’. I was unable to fit a full size Turkey in the smaller oven and had to cut the bird in half and turn it on its side to cook. Now that was quite the chore! That turkey – unlike the one in the microwave – DID come out just fine after I performed my surgery (as pictured)