By Patrick F. Cannon
A roasted Turkey is the centerpiece of a classic Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, not everyone loves the big bird. One such was a former neighbor of mine in Albert Lea, Minnesota, where I lived for a couple of years in the late 1960s due to a job transfer. It had a population in 2020 of about 20,000, about the same as when we lived there. We moved from one of the cheapest houses in Glenview (a fairly upscale suburb of Chicago) to a new house in Albert Lea, which was about twice the size for roughly the same cost, a bit more than $25,000 in 1968.
The next door neighbor was the retired county sheriff. Can’t remember his name, but he was known around town as “Sheriffy.” He was an amiable but quiet fellow, part Native American and part Norwegian. Before he bought his new house, he had lived on some “acreage” (as the folks in the area would have called it) on the edge of town. To make use of some of his land and generate a few bucks, he decided to raise some turkeys. The way it worked was you bought some poults (babies), put them in some kind of enclosure, fed them, then sold them to a processor when they reached market weight.
Anyway, Sheriffy had his flock near market weight when a big-time thunderstorm blew through the area. It seems the birds were terrified and huddled together so closely that they all suffocated to death. No turkeys, no income. Sherrify hadn’t realized, he said, “how stupid the damn things were. I’ve never eaten Turkey since. Ham is what we have.”
As for me, I’ve eaten Turkey for Thanksgiving as long as I can remember. My mother was an indifferent cook, but there was always enough gravy to make the tough Turkey go down. Even the Army managed to put on a traditional feast when I was stationed in France and later, the Mojave Desert. After that, and for many years, my sister Kathleen hosted Thanksgiving. Married to an Italian (Emilio Giuseppe Evangelisti), she became an excellent cook. We always started with a pasta course, and the food kept coming! I always overate.
After Kathleen died, and I remarried, my wife Jeanette and I always hosted Thanksgiving and I was put in charge of making the hallowed bird. I have become (justly) famous for my stuffing. I would give you the recipe but there isn’t one. I just play it by ear. I can, however, give you some advice. Because there’s nothing worse than wet and gooey stuffing, always toast the bread the day before, cube it, and let it dry overnight. Don’t be afraid to search the freezer for those bits of bread you always forget about. If there’s some rye or whole wheat lurking in the back, thaw it out and throw it in the mix.
I also add some breakfast sausage. I fry a package of (usually 8) patties, drain them on paper towels and chop into small cubes. I also dice a lot of onion and celery. These are sauteed in a very large pan in butter, along with some fresh parsley, rosemary and sage. I then add some shaved carrot, diced apple and minced, dried cranberries to give a bit of color. I usually root through the spice drawer and sprinkle in anything that looks likely, as well as salt and pepper to taste. No garlic though. Garlic is a no-no in stuffing.
After this mixture cools a bit, I add it to the bread and mix it thoroughly. If it’s a bit dry, I add some turkey stock until it’s (in my view) perfect. Then into the bird it goes. There’s always enough to both stuff the gobbler and fill a casserole. There is a school of thought that says you should never stuff the bird. I suppose if you forget to cook the turkey completely, this might be a problem. But in 35 years I have never sickened anyone who ate my stuffing.
I should mention here that the raw bird will have a sack full of innards in the cavity. I have heard of people who have inadvertently left this in. Since you are one of my readers, I can’t imagine you would be guilty of this. Before you put the turkey in the oven (read the instructions on the packaging to determine oven temperature and approximate cooking time), brush all over with melted butter. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. I always tent with foil for the first half of the cooking time. After it’s done and out of the oven, let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. I have seen some inept carving in my day, but don’t worry, it will still taste OK.
If you have to have ham, buy one of those spiral-sliced ones; really, one of mankind’s greatest inventions. Or, you could have both turkey and ham! Now that would be something to be thankful for!
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon