Nature’s Notes: It’s Turkey Time

The holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s turkey time.

Growing up in a city, he never saw a wild turkey roaming around unless his home was near a wooded section of the outlying areas of the city limits. One day I saw a pair of wild turkeys in a church yard near a heavily wooded lot. Since it was November, I assumed that these two turkeys decided to take refuge in a church and ask for asylum.

Since locating in Upper Thumb, I have seen numerous wild turkeys running across fields, crossing paths, and sticking their heads out from behind trees in the woods. They seem to know when the holiday season has arrived because there seems to be a noticeable lack of outdoor appearances.

With turkey time approaching, thoughts of Thanksgiving celebrations filled with delicious food and delicious desserts fill the mind. Visions of sweet potato casseroles, cranberry salads, stuffings, gravy bits, shortbread biscuits, homemade jams and jellies, mashed potatoes swimming in butter, corn casseroles, green bean casseroles, and pastries of all kinds overwhelm the senses. Recipes from past generations, handed down with love, are drawn and shopping lists are made. There is a bustle in the air. Everything seems to flow like clockwork, unless it’s your first time preparing the long-awaited buffet of delicacies. What can go wrong?

My parents decided to visit me over the Thanksgiving holidays when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for a short period of time. I was excited to have them visit me. It hadn’t registered in my brain that I would be making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. My mother came from a long line of very good farm and country cooks. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-aunts prepared meals for the farmworkers every day.

Needless to say, it was a bit intimidating when I began to think about the enormous responsibility of carrying on the tradition of generations of award-winning “big day” foods. I pulled out all the recipes that I had diligently recorded on the recipe cards and started making the grocery list. Being 20 years old, I also wanted to create a new tradition by preparing something new for the extravaganza of holiday meals. Desserts have always been my specialty. I quickly settled on a decadent chocolate cake recipe.

With my menu complete, I went to the supermarket and bought all the necessary food to prepare dinner. While picking up groceries, I stumbled across Pepperidge Farm Premade Stuffing Mix and Heinz Turkey Gravy in a mason jar. My mind immediately processed fast vs. traditional. It was risky, but I went for it quickly influenced by the wonderful invention called a microwave oven. I would simply explain my decisions to my mother as “progress,” like using turkey cooking bags instead of the brown paper bags that were the standard at the time.

Thanksgiving came around and I started creating my first Thanksgiving dinner. After preparing the turkey, basting it liberally with butter, I placed it in the baking bag, put it on a tray, and placed it in the oven. My mother, however, was used to putting the stuffing in the bird’s cavity and asked me why I decided not to follow the “tradition”. I proceeded to pull out the bag of stuffing mix to explain the benefits of a pre-made breadcrumb mix. Mom’s eyes widened as she looked at the bag. She didn’t say a word, but I knew what she was thinking.

When the turkey thermometer appeared to say it was done, I proudly took it out of the oven. Mom wanted the juices to create the sauce along with the neck and giblets. Neck and giblets, what neck and giblets? Mom asked where she had put them. I told him there was no neck or giblets. Then I took out the jar of sauce. Her mother’s face told her thoughts, but she never said a word.

As I started to cut the turkey, I looked inside the turkey cavity and saw a plastic bag. I took it out. It contained the neck and giblets. Mother couldn’t help but roll her eyes. My father thought he was funny. I felt like the turkey, cooked. Meanwhile, my miniature schnauzer, Tuffy, had decided that she needed to try turkey. While I made the mashed potatoes, he licked his thighs and tried to nibble a few bites. Never leave a turkey on the edge of a table. I had to stop making the mashed potatoes to tend to Tuffy. It broke my concentration and I forgot to put milk on the potatoes. I was wondering why they were so stiff.

The deviled eggs I made were too runny, the marshmallows were burned on the sweet potatoes, the filling was too dry, and the decadent chocolate cake was made with the wrong type of flour. My mother just sighed and shook her head. My father said it was the best sauce he had ever tasted, no lumps, and he liked the premade stuffing mix. He raved about the icing on the cake, saying that stiff mashed potatoes were better for retaining the gravy. Tuffy seemed pleased with himself and I sat humiliated with images of all my ancestors running through my head. He had let them all down. Taking refuge in a church seemed very attractive at the time.

Mom looked at me, patted my hand, and laughed. She explained that in her first solo try at Thanksgiving dinner, she burned the turkey, her sauce seemed to have mothballs in it and her stuffing tasted more like cardboard.

This Thanksgiving, be thankful if dinner was prepared by a newbie or veteran in the kitchen. In the end, it’s all about the family, not the dinner. Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Kim Fortune is a freelance reporter and columnist for the Huron Daily Tribune. You can reach her by emailing [email protected]

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