Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks and Giving

Timing is everything.

We'd been living at our current home, a 2-acre mixture of flat, sharp slope, towering redwoods, and invasive blackberries, for a year or so when we (me actually) decided that we had to raise poultry. I'd raised several flocks of chickens in our previous urban backyards and knew the drill.

Some months later, chickens happily scratching dirt, eating bugs and laying eggs, a friend asked if we wanted two bronze turkey chicks to raise for the table. Well sure, why not? Turkeys can't be any more difficult to raise than chickens. And they weren't. These turkey chicks bonded with the chickens right away, sharing both eating and living space. All was harmonious in the avian world.

The turkeys, fed on a healthy diet of bugs, kitchen scraps and supplemental feed, grew and flourished. Flourished and grew. They became so big that the dogs skirted around them, leaving well-enough alone. Smart dogs.

Our turkeys had beautiful, bronzy feathers and intensely ugly faces. Sweetly dispositioned, they could be approached by any human who wanted to pet them. Eventually they outgrew the chicken pen, so we just left them outside to forage and find a place to sleep at night. And on they grew.

Long about September I started calling them Thanks and Giving, Thanks being the slightly smaller of the two which allowed me to tell them apart. October rolled around, then November, and it was time to do the unsavory deed and get these guys ready for the table. I won't go into the details here. Suffice it to say, they were quickly and humanely dispatched, plucked, cleaned and refrigerated several days before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at our house is a big event. Family and friends come from far and wide, filling up our small, cozy home with laughter and love. This is the holiday Mr CC joyfully anticipates from year to year not only because of his love for family gatherings, but because he gets to make the stuffing for the turkey. With wild abandonment and gusto. Just like his grandpa Charley used to do.

The stuffing is started at around 8 am on Thanksgiving day. It takes a little over an hour to prepare then is stuffed into the bird which goes into the oven at around 10 am. We've been doing this for years, why not stick to the schedule? Only this time, when we opened the oven door to put the stuffed bird inside, it wouldn't fit. We looked at each other. We looked at the bird. My, it was big. It was bigger than any turkey we'd ever had. In fact, it was huge. We hadn't weighed it. We hadn't measured it. It hadn't crossed either of our minds to do so. Sometimes tradition wears a blindfold.

Mr. CC had to rig up a rack that sat on the bottom of the oven so the bird would fit, just barely clearing the top of the oven ceiling in our old Wedgewood gas stove. Whew! Turkey in and starting to cook, we turned to other matters. Friends and family who had not already arrived the night before started trickling in. Merriment abounded. Throughout the day the turkey was basted, side dishes were made and the table was set. We would sit down for dinner at 5:30.

Around 4 o'clock a thermometer was placed into the turkey's thigh. Hmmm, not even close. The temperature of the meat was way too low. We cranked the oven up a bit, kept the foil tent in place and closed the oven door.

5:30 came. And went.



The constant sounds of conversation and laughter began to wane as people wandered into the kitchen looking for food. And the turkey still wasn't done. That's when it began to dawn on Mr CC and I that we hadn't just miscalculated the size of this bird, we hadn't calculated at all. Even when it wouldn't fit into the oven, it hadn't occured to us that it might take many more hours to roast than our previous experiences with turkeys.

At about 8:30, our group of 24 very quiet loved ones looked longingly at the array of side dishes ready for the table. Those faces, filled with hunger, could not be denied. We sat down and ate. The turkey was still in the oven, no mashed potatoes or gravy had been prepared, but we ate anyway. The relief was palpable. Laughter swelled once again. It was Thanksgiving.

The turkey finally came out of the oven at 10 o'clock. Those with enough room in their sated stomaches took a few bites and declared it the most delicious turkey they'd ever tasted, and certainly the biggest.

For weeks afterward, we ate turkey sandwiches, turkey croquettes, turkey omlettes, turkey soups and turkey stews. We gave turkey away to friends, we sent turkey home with family. Thanks, the smaller, 37-pound bird, as we determined the following day, was wrapped and put into the freezer to await the time when we would do this again, sometime in the distant future, where memories of life's awkward moments finally come into their own as humorous stories to be told around the Thanksgiving table.

My friend Katie, blogging from France at Thyme For Cooking , has asked food bloggers to post their most embarrassing holiday recipes for "Skeletons in The Pantry". I do have a recipe for this event, but am not able to post it yet. Meanwhile, reading Katie's intriguing invitation, this little reminiscence just flowed out of my fingertips onto the keyboard this morning. Then I had a hankering to share. I will also share that cleaning and plucking a 40-pound turkey is an experience I will never forget, nor am likely to repeat.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved


Kalyn said...

What a fun, fun story. I can't imagine a turkey that big. Someday I must come and see this interesting place where you live.

Christine said...

I can't think of anything more fun than to have you come to my house, Kalyn. Unless it's all of my blogger friends coming to my house. Oh gosh, then I would really have to clean, wouldn't I?

Simona said...

That's a funny story, Christine. I also have difficulty picturing a turkey that big.

Mimi said...

That is hilarious, Christine. I mean, you told it well. I can see how it just rolled off your fingertips.

When is that big blogger meeting chez vous?

BTW, we sometimes get wild turkeys in our yard.

katiez said...

Absolutely hilarious! I can see me doing exactly the same thing... I mean, I never weigh the ones I buy in the store....
Did you ever figure out how much it weighed? Did Thanks fit in the oven much better?
Thank you, thank you for such a great story!

Christine said...

Evidently we did too, Simona. I knew the turkeys were big but I thought a lot of it was the feathers.

Thank you Mimi. I knew that story had to come out sometime and yesterday was that sometime.
Would you come if I had a gathering Chez Moi? I think Katie, Jann, Kalyn, you, Simona and I would have a wonderful time together, no? I'll do it if I can get commitments.

Thanks Katie, when we determined that Thanks weighed 37 pounds, and we knew that Giving was the bigger bird, we estimated that he had weighed about 40, give or take a few ounces. Really, we should have thought to weigh them after the time we had plucking and cleaning. It was hard, heavy work!
Thanks did fit into the oven better, but it was still a squeeze.

Christine said...

BTW: I have cooked a 32-pounder with great success. Those 8 extra pounds make such a difference.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

It's exactly those "little" details that are always tripping me up. We had a year when the turkey was way over due before it was finally done.
You've really told this one perfectly.

Anonymous said...

What a great story Christine, I just wish I was there to partake of some of the turkey!!

Jann said...

oh my gosh, this was too funny-I can't believe you did the deed to the turkeys-you need to send this in to a magazine, it is that good! A blogger meeting???oh, that sounds wonderful-when and where? PARIS?I like California too-

sher said...

Great post, I loved reading it. I've always wanted to raise my own poultry, but I fear they would become pets!

Magpie said...

LOL - Last year, my husband ordered a 20# turkey from a farm at our farmer's market. He went to pick it up the night before Thanksgiving, and there were no 20# birds. They had 12# or 30#. Any sane person would have taken one 12#, or even 2. My husband? Took the 30# bird. Which then didn't fit in any pan or the oven. He ended up butchering it down to the breast and the two legs, roasted the breast and one leg that day, and saved the rest for the next day. Too much turkey.