Turkey Day. If it was up to me, Thanksgiving would be nicknamed for the towering pillar of mashed potatoes with a giblet gravy moat I erect at the center of my plate. I know Helen would agree. And her sister, Becky, would rename the day in honor of the huge trough of green bean casserole she dives into first. Tom, on the other hand, would be more focused on the pie smorgasbord he’d be having for dessert than the protein course. But I guess saying “Happy Mashed Tater Day” or “How was your Plentiful Pie Day?” doesn’t have the right ring to it. People, understandably, pay more homage to the turkey than any big-as-a- boat crock of green beans or other side dishes.
It’s not surprising that Thanksgiving is synonymous with the bountiful, succulent bird at the center of our holiday table. After all, it’s been a Native American symbol of abundance and generosity since way before the Pilgrims invited themselves over for dinner. Besides, we’d be gathered together with our plates half empty if the king of poultry didn’t show up for the party.
“What are your plans for Thanksgiving this year?” folks ask. What they really want to know, especially if they’re women, is: Do I have to cook a turkey and all the trimmings or have I been invited to sit admiringly at the other end of the table while someone else stands behind the iconic platter of Butterball? “Meeting up with the girls out at Tom’s brother Jon’s in Idaho this year,” I report back—which is, apparently, interesting and unexpected enough to stop the conversation right then and there. What folks might not know (besides my preference for mashed taters and giblets) is that I already have a pretty amazing turkey feast under my belt this year.
“Wow…what a nice fat gobbler,” Tom remarked when our friend Keith’s son, Fletcher, first showed off the turkey he was raising in his back yard.
“Thanks,” Fletcher said. “We call him MC.”
“MC?” Tom pondered the name. Fletcher was too young and too down to earth to be an MC Hammer fan. He couldn’t help but wonder if the kid was getting so attached to the bird that he didn’t remember why he was making it so fat.
“It stands for Main Course,” Fletcher said as he threw out more feed.
MC grew to a whopping 35 pounds last month when, covered in bacon, oven basted and then grilled, he fulfilled his name at Keith’s annual Rangeley Beast Feast barbecue. “Best turkey I ever had!” I raved, forgoing the mashed taters and gravy in favor of another slice. “Good ol’ MC is setting the bar pretty high for Thanksgiving from now on.”
But I’ll bet Jon and his wife, Nancy, with their Big Green Egg outdoor cooker/smoker, are fixing to out-do MC this year. They’ll plop a turkey in the giant ceramic egg first thing in the morning and presto…out will come mouth-watering perfection. Heck, once they combine Helen’s chef training and Becky’s flair with open-flame cuisine with their Big Green Egg prowress—while the rest of us sprinkle on spices and wine-infused cooking tips—the Idaho turkey is bound to be a culinary creation rivaling all Beast Feasts far and wide.
I’m figuring they may even shatter Yankee magazine’s assertion from back in my just-married years that Great New England Cook William Blackburn was king of the Thanksgiving barbecue. Blackburn, whose specialty was whole beasts on the
barbecue, loved to cook outdoors because “there’s something primordial about
it” and the process involves a lot of “show” for his guests.
I still remember the article, picturing the flamboyant chef in his fire-retardant apron, ready to demonstrate to the ladies at Better Homes and Gardens the real origins of flame broiling. He was going to take them back—way back before long-handled forks, red and white tablecloths, and covering over the grill in September—by preparing his favorite main dish…Turseduckencornail. (For those of you familiar with my Christmas Turducken of last year’s “A Moving Feast” fame, this creation adds three more birds to the turkey-duck-chicken composite.)
“Gather together the following,” the Yankee article instructs, “a quail, a Cornish game hen, a chicken, a duck, a goose and a turkey. Make a large batch of your favorite stuffing. Or, if you have several favorites, make them all!” After that intro, I suspected I was in for a taste adventure a little bit more complicated than mixing up the Stove Top stuffing and waiting for the little pop-up turkey timer to surface. Reading further, I wondered if I should start heading for Tom’s hunting gear instead of the grocery store.
“To make a Turseduckencornail, you must debone each of the birds without cutting any of the skin.” The chef explains this process, advising that I start with the quail to gain knife skills experience for the bigger birds. He’s already way out of my realm, though. I have trouble separating drumsticks from thigh bones, primarily because the entire contents of my knife drawer can barely saw through an onion.
For years I’ve wondered if any single, brave cook successfully completed Chef Blackburn’s instructions, emerging from the kitchen with a quail inside of a Cornish hen inside of a chicken inside of a duck inside of a goose inside of a turkey. Was this sextuplet of a bird fitting to serve as the main course and, if so, did the host or hostess have any fingers left with which to serve and plate?
According to the article, you actually begin the whole stuffing hierarchy by placing a hard boiled egg inside the quail. After properly fastening the Turseduckencornail, you put it over the fire for “about 9 hours.” If you have any trouble turning the bird midway, don’t force it, advises Blackburn. (Believe me, I wouldn’t. To me, a spatula is a precision instrument!)
To serve, you cut the Turseduckencornail lengthwise. “If done perfectly,” Blackburn notes,
“you’ll slice the hard boiled egg into halves.” Then you slice it again crossway, giving each
guest a portion of all the meats. Serves 20.” (Yeah, the Flintstones and the Rubbles, with plenty of leftovers…)
Seriously, I would love to have the perseverance and precision necessary to make Turseduckencornail—not to mention one of those knives that simultaneously cuts paper, tin cans and old shoes. I imagine the resulting flavors are well worth the effort and the giblet gravy must be sinful. But the last time I experimented with anything bigger than a burger on the barbecue, I ended up with “Chernobyl Chicken.” I can only imagine my results with 40 pounds (and 20 hours worth of deboned poultry) perched atop the grill. “Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this but I burned the Turseduckencornail…”
So, with MC still tickling my taste buds and Chef Blackburn’s over abundance of poultry tucked in my “not in this lifetime” memory banks, I’ll thankfully watch my brother and sister-in-law put the turkey inside the outdoor egg while I’m inside mashing the taters.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (For last year’s message, see “Portraits of Thanksgiving.”)