Next week we will celebrate that all-American holiday of Thanksgiving. And nothing says Thanksgiving like a good old, all-American turkey.
The turkey has become both the symbol of the holiday and the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. You would be hard-pressed to think of a picture of the Thanksgiving celebration that does not showcase a juicy, golden-skinned bird presented on platter surrounded by seasonal garnishes while the family practically drools in anticipation.
But with that tradition comes a lot of pressure to present the perfect bird. Produce an epic turkey fail and your Thanksgiving dinner does not have a drumstick to stand on, so to speak.
Both my mother and mother-in-law can produce a mean turkey. My grandmother was also an expert at the art of turkey preparation. That is a lot of pressure to live up to at the holiday table.
Fortunately I have had some turkey success stories over the years. The worst scenario I have endured was underestimating the time a turkey would take to thaw or cook through. I myself do not have any personal horror stories of birds gone wrong, but do know of a few.
I have a friend who cooked her first Thanksgiving dinner shortly after she was married. She stressed about producing the perfect bird as she was anxious to impress her new mother-in-law. When the big day arrived, her bird came out of the oven golden and juicy. It seemed her first endeavor was a success, until they began to carve and un-stuff the turkey. Unfortunately it was discovered she neglected to remove the little bag from the cavity containing the giblets.
My sister also had her own near turkey disaster one Thanksgiving early in her marriage. Not wanting the turkey to soil her newly-cleaned oven, she lined the interior in aluminum foil. This kept her oven from becoming splattered, but it also prevented the turkey from cooking as it greatly affected the oven temperature. She could not figure out why her turkey was not browning after several hours in the oven until her mother-in-law decided to take a look. The foil was promptly removed and her turkey eventually cooked through, several hours later than anticipated, in her now less-than-spotless oven.
I have come to understand, however, that a turkey fail can be as valuable to the holiday as a turkey success. A dried-out turkey that no one could eat without smothering in gravy or the deep-fried bird that nearly set the garage on fire can become the stuff from which family stories grow and are passed on.
I still remember the stories my Great Uncle Emil used to tell about his wife, my Great Aunt Tillie, who could not bake to save her life. One of my favorites was the one he told about when she baked banana bread. It was so hard he wanted to use it as a brick, which he jokingly said he would put in front of the tires of his car to keep it from rolling down the hill. Or the holiday when she produced a beautiful apple pie from the oven. Unfortunately she had used the wrong kind of apples, which had apparently evaporated and left only a nice golden crust behind.
So whether your bird is Norman Rockwell picture-perfect or rivals the one on the Griswold table in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, remember that memories that you make with those around the Thanksgiving table matter much more than what is placed upon it.
Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving. And remember to baste that bird.