Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Muse Day: Turkey Trials

While everyone may be thinking ahead this week to Christmas, I'm still reflecting on last week's celebration for this December Garden Muse Day:

"I ate too much turkey,
I ate too much corn,
I ate too much pudding and pie,
I'm stuffed up with muffins
and much too much stuffin',
I'm probably going to die.

I piled up my plate
and I ate and I ate,
but I wish I had known when to stop,
for I'm so crammed with yams,
sauces, gravies, and jams
that my buttons are starting to pop.

I'm full of tomatoes
and french fried potatoes,
my stomach is swollen and sore,
but there's still some dessert,
so I guess it won't hurt
if I eat just a little bit more."

- Jack Prelutsky, "I Ate Too Much"

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday and that no one over-indulged too much.  The group at my house was smaller this year as Arizona Daughter and her fiance weren't able to come home as they did last year.  Youngest Daughter also was absent, spending her second Thanksgiving in Oregon, far away from home.  But I was happy to have both my parents here as well as both sons with their families (meaning all five grandchildren, happily), so it was a good day.  And I did talk to both daughters on the phone.  When Youngest Daughter called, her first question was "What time did you finally eat?" . . . and then she giggled.  Now that may seem a strange comment on this traditional holiday, but the timing of Thanksgiving dinner in recent years has become a family joke and a source of yearly consternation to me.  Let me explain this annual rite I refer to as "Turkey Trials and Tribulations" . . .

About ten years ago my husband, not a big fan of roasted turkey, sampled some deep-fried turkey at a local establishment and pronounced it the best turkey he had ever eaten.  He promptly decided this was what we should serve at our next Thanksgiving dinner and went out to buy a turkey fryer for the holiday. 

Now for anyone who thinks deep frying a turkey sounds weird or even blasphemous, let me explain the process.  A deep fryer designed specifically for a 12-pound (or less) turkey is attached to a small propane tank to heat up the oil.  When the oil reaches 400 degrees, the turkey is put on a spit and plunged into the hot oil which quickly browns the skin, keeping the meat inside moist and juicy.  The cooking process takes less than an hour, obviously a much quicker method than the usual roasting time in an oven. 

That first Thanksgiving of the deep-fried turkey, Arizona Daughter's then-boyfriend was a member of the university football team which had a game scheduled for Thanksgiving Day.  Everyone but me went to the game, because someone had to cook all the trimmings, right?  I listened to the game on the radio while I went about peeling potatoes, mixing the stuffing, and putting together the green bean casserole.  Husband, usually known as Mr. Procrastinator but also known as Mr. I-Don't-Cook, was in charge of cooking the turkey as soon he got home, a job I gladly relinquished to him.  Always a list and schedule-maker, I had everything planned so that within an hour of everyone's arrival, dinner would be on the table.

Once the hungry crew arrived home, the countdown began.  Potatoes were set on the stove to boil, casseroles put in the oven, and the propane unit for the fryer was lit, all with the precise timing of a rocket launch--45 minutes until lift-off!  But there was just one problem--neither Mr. P nor I had taken into account the time it took for the oil to heat up.  Minutes stretched into a hour and then two hours as the thermometer testing the oil inched up one degree at a time.  Meanwhile, the mashed potatoes stiffened and the noodles cooked especially for then-boyfriend congealed in the pot.  And I stewed and then simmered . . .  Three hours later, the turkey was finally done and we sat down to eat.  Everyone said dinner was delicious, but I think they were just so famished that anything would have tasted good. 

After that disastrous dinner, I vowed to go back to roasting a turkey for the next Thanksgiving, but Mr. P was adamant, convincing me that now that we knew better about the timing, things would go more smoothly the next time.  But propane units are temperamental and not very reliable, so while I had estimated two hours for heating the oil, the next year it took nearly three.  Even when I got smart and had Mr. P start the oil and cooking much earlier than needed, something still would go wrong.  It got to the point that when I invited everyone for dinner, I would give the time as 12 . . . or 1 . . . depending on the frying turkey. 

A few years ago, Mr. P decided to switch to an electric fryer, complete with its own thermostat, making it a more reliable method of predicting cooking times.  But even then, there are some pitfalls.  Testing the doneness of a turkey is much more difficult when you have to pull it out of boiling oil and then plunge it back in if it's not done.  And a few minutes of cooking by this method may equal a half an hour of the conventional roasting method.  One year, after testing the turkey, I suggested a few more minutes of cooking time, and we wound up with a charred fowl, though the meat actually tasted juicier than it looked.

According to the Department of Agriculture, this year's Thanksgiving meal for a family of four cost around $43, quite a bargain for such a feast.  Turkey is always an economical meat, but especially at Thanksgiving time when stores offer special prices at less than $1.00 a pound.  But deep-frying isn't quite so economical . . . Fresh peanut oil must be purchased each year, and the 3-gallon jug I bought cost nearly $30.  I bought two, because I thought we needed four gallons of oil, bringing the total to $60--five times what I paid for the turkey!  And let's not forget that fancy electric turkey fryer--$100 for an appliance used only once a year.  I think I could probably serve filet mignon to my family for the same price:)

But when I suggested going back to the old tried and true method of roasting a turkey, my family gave a resounding "no."  Both my sons prefer the taste of deep-fried turkey, and the cooking process has become somewhat of a male ritual here.  Mr. P sets up the fryer in the toolshed (for safety's sake), and my sons keep him company part of the time, trekking back to the house every 15 minutes to give us progress reports.  Like the early cave-men, they eventually come out of their cave, proudly carrying their finished trophy for all to admire.

Last year, by some miracle, the whole process went off without a hitch, and dinner, complete with a perfectly browned bird, was served at the appointed time.  I fully expected this year to be the same, but I should have known better . . . On this Thursday morning, I had the stuffing mixed and already in the crockpot to bake, sweet potatoes were baking in the oven, later to be mashed for my special casserole.  I was taking a moment to relax, when Mr. P walked in the door at 8:45 and said the fryer wouldn't turn on.  "What do you mean, it won't come on??"  He had checked it just days before and pronounced all systems go, yet on the very day it was needed, the fryer decided to just quit!

There was nothing left to do but put the bird in the roasting pan and hope and pray that the three and a half hours left till dinner were enough time to completely cook it.  I scrambled around for the next few hours, juggling dishes in and out of my small oven and turning the temperature up and down--as high as possible to get that darned turkey cooked in time, then lower to avoid burning the sweet potatoes and green beans.  The stuffing was taken out of the crockpot to make room for the ham--no way was there room in my oven for both a turkey and a ham!   Meanwhile, family members arrived, and I was on my way to an all-too common Thanksgiving fowl mood.   Finally, an hour after the planned time, we sat down to dinner, and I finally relaxed.  Another Thanksgiving near-disaster to add to the family lore!

Somewhere I read that Illinois ranks second only to Louisiana for fires on Thanksgiving Day, no doubt caused by all those propane fumes swirling around the family dinner.  Thankfully, we have never had a fire on this holiday.  Nor have we had the turkey carried off by a dog, ala "A Christmas Story."   But Mr. P has vowed to either fix the fryer or buy a new one for next year, so both possibilities exist in the future, especially the second scenario with Sophie around:)

Extra guests are always welcome at our Thanksgiving dinner, so if you're in the area next year, feel free to stop by.  Dinner will be served at 12 noon . . . or 2:00 . . . or maybe 3:00 . . .

Garden Muse Day is hosted the first of each month by the ever-gracious Carolyn Gail . . . who probably served her Thanksgiving dinner on time:)


  1. What a riot! I think those family tales of holiday plans gone awry are the best. We smoke our birds and that also is quite a process-- to include the brining of the bird 24 hours prior to smoking. Since it is done at such a low heat I am ALWAYS leery of whether it is cooked thoroughly or not. This year was a 'finish it up in the oven' year. Haven't died yet.

  2. You're hilarious, Rose! I think every family has its Thanksgiving feast disaster story. You've had more than your fair share:) Gluttony, indeed! Our son insisted on bringing over his deep-fried version of turkey, and honestly, it was way better than the one I fixed in my countertop roaster. Next year, I think I'll just fix the trimmings and let him have the honor of getting that turkey ready.

  3. Rose, just too funny. I almost wished I ate turkey to enjoy the experience. Could I just come and watch? the 'caveman' connection.
    I always cook turkey for my family at Christmas. I roast it....after reading your post, I am very relieved I do.

    As far as I am concerned you deserve a medal.......

  4. Oh man! You've had some trials and tribulations with the turkey haven't you? Wow! Total bummer on the fryer quitting, but on the good side, it sounds like you guys have the process almost down and once you get that new fryer you should be good to go next year! Frying a turkey is no simple job and since your family likes it so much stick with it. Practice makes perfect. Love your opening poem. Too cute!

  5. OH Rose this was a stitch to read. I know it wasn't funny when things went awry but you sure write about them in a humorous way. I am glad you at least got to eat and the house wasn't burned down. Nothing like a little excitement in your life.

  6. Rose! What a fun rendition of your family's annual Thanksgiving celebration! :-) I'm sure the turkey is good, and I'm so glad your husband enjoys cooking it. I'm wondering if I'm just being selfish by wanting to pull a beautiful turkey out of the oven?
    Happy December!

  7. Well at least you have something to laugh about every holiday Rose, lol. Glad that everything turned out well in the end. :)

  8. Thanks for sharing your turkey trials. Years from now, your garnds will still be telling these stories! :)

  9. Oh, Rose! That was wonderful, you do make me laugh, I enjoyed every word of it and could 'see' it all :) I don't know what it was about the price of the oil and the fact it was five times the price of the turkey but that bit nearly made me fall off my chair with laughter and also the thought of Mr P and your sons trekking back and forth from the shed to the house every few minutes, just so funny :)

    My meals often don't reach the table at their planned time even sometimes when it is only the two of us!

    Such an amusing poem at the beginning too!

  10. OMG ! ROSE girl !
    This was hilarious !! .. I had heard of this method a couple of years ago and it still boggles my mind .. I just can't see it myself .. the smell of roasting turkey is the BEST part of the whole meal for us !!
    BUT .. I see the "man" satisfaction scale all the way up to 10 because there is almost no work but all of the praise ? attachment .. other than failure to launch when the oil takes that long to heat , IF everything is working ? haha
    And the price of the whole ordeal ? WOW .. I'm still shaking my head and laughing here girl ;-)

  11. By any chance is your hubby a reincarnated redneck, Rose? Where else but down South would anyone fry a turkey, LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your turkey mishaps with us they were just too funny. Have you ever seen the Three Stoogers turkey day episode? They actually "dressed" the turkey!

    Thanks for contributing to our Muse Day.

  12. Loved the poem!
    I think I'd prefer roast to deep fried any day!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  13. Oh Rose,

    Your Thanksgiving tales brought a smile to my face :-)

    Family gatherings are always somewhat unpredictable. I have never tasted a fried turkey. I think that I probably never will after reading your post because I am sure that I would have a lot of things go wrong ;-)

  14. I love your sense of humor, that poem is hilarious!

    Hope you had a good turkey day. I was stuffed, pleasantly.

  15. Funny story! Have you considered making the turkey a day early & then reheating it?

  16. Fried turkey does sound too good to be true. We’ve tasted fine results with brined turkey. It is soaked in salt water before roasting and makes the skin crispier and the meat tender without it tasting salty. I've never done it myself. Then again it sounds like fried turkey, trouble and all, has become part of your holiday. It was worth it just for the story – well told!

  17. Rose that is funny! We use an oven bag and when the turkey comes out it's pretty predictable and so there is no drama. That's left to the guests. :)

  18. That was truly a turkey of a story Rose! We were at our daughter's home this year and I was in charge of the bird. First, since "organic" is a must in her household, the cost of the dang thing was over $50.00! But it did emerge beautifully golden and thankfully done - a triumph of sorts!

  19. Dear Rose,
    A very funny Thanksgiving story. It is the family stories we treasure the most!
    Hope you enjoy decorating for Christmas.
    Do you bake cookies?

  20. Love your holiday memories, dear Rose. Yes, Thanksgiving shouts memories! This year, our dear daughter broke her leg shlepping goodies over for dinner after the annual Lion football game. We (entire family) are all still regrouping/recovering from the 'fun day'. On to December and the joys it might bring :)

  21. Your turkey saga has given me a much needed laugh Rose so thank you for relating the tale. Such events result in special memories, which will be enjoyed by your family for many years to come. Thanks for the invite ~ see you next year ~ now what date was it ? :)

  22. Janet, Smoked turkey sounds delicious!

    W2W, Deep-fried turkey sounds so redneck, doesn't it? But it really is much tastier. Sounds like a good plan to let your son do the turkey cooking next year.

    Cheryl, It's the only time of year my husband actually cooks, so I'm reluctant to give up this ritual. You deserve a medal for being willing to cook a turkey for everyone else!

    Tina, The family has been spoiled with this tastier version of turkey, so I doubt we'll give it up soon.

    Lisa, I wasn't laughing at the time:) But problems like these always seem to turn into good family stories.

    Shady, I miss the roasting turkey in the oven, and what's really hard is not having browned drippings for gravy. But it does give me more oven space!

    Racquel, So many of our family stories seem to involve mishaps like these:) We do laugh a lot.

    Songbird, I'm glad you enjoyed the story. The scene of my husband and sons carrying the turkey into the house so reminds me of early hunters proudly bearing their kill back to the tribe:)

  23. Beckie, (I skipped over you, sorry!) Family stories always seem to revolve around these kinds of mistakes. Didn't you have a similar late dinner last year?

    Joy, I've read about all kinds of strange ways to cook a turkey, including sticking a can of beer into it; I don't think we'll be trying that one:)

    Carolyn Gail, No, he's not, but I'm sure whoever came up with this method must have been:) My husband loves the Three Stooges--will have to look for this sketch.

    Maggie May, The fried version actually is much tastier and doesn't taste fried at all. But it does have its pitfalls as you can see!

    Noelle, I always have this vision of the perfect family dinner with a perfectly set table and everything ready on time. Things just never work out perfectly at my house:)

    Rosey, Glad you had a good Thanksgiving. I think I finally finished off all the leftovers:)

    MMD, Now that sounds like a smart idea!

    Sarah, I started using a brine for my turkey a few years ago--I really do think it makes a much tastier bird!

    Sweetbay, Sometimes we have family drama, too:) The oven bag sounds like a great plan.

    Amy, There's something so satisfying about taking out that browned turkey, isn't there? Why is it that "organic" automatically means more expensive?!

    Sherry, Christmas is the only time I really get into decorating. I hope to have the grandkids over for a cookie-baking fest again this year, my favorite Christmas prep of all.

    Joey, So sorry about your daughter! And you are a Lions' fan? That's kind of like me being a Cubs' fan, I think:)

    Anna, Glad you enjoyed it. Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November--hope to see you next year:)

  24. Rose, I've saved this post so my husband can read it. He bought the propane deep fryer a couple of years ago and thinks it would be perfectly acceptable to make his very first turkey on Thankgsiving. I say he needs to do a practice one first. We may do one with friends on Super Bowl Sunday.

    I laughed out loud at the part about the oil costing $60.00 and the turkey only $12.00.

    My husband would have to do the turkey outside on the driveway because he doesn't have a toolshed and there's no way I'll allow him to use the garage.

    This post was a riot to read. Thanks for taking the time to do it.



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