Were I asked what I wanted my last meal to be, I’d have answer one of the following:
Of course, there are other good answers to that question, ranging from Sunday dinner to Homer Simpson’s response. He misunderstood the gist of “I would like my last meal to be…” and answered, “smothered in country gravy.”
At any rate, I’d have to come down on the side of Thanksgiving. It’s a complex meal, and I was blessed to have a Mother and family of wonderful cooks.
Thanksgiving would begin around 3 a.m. at the house on East Fork. The turkey would be on the counter thawing, and we received no end of lectures regarding how dangerous the thing was. Mountain kids tend to be a) hungry and b) grabby, so we were told repeatedly of the exotic fatal diseases one would invite by touching a raw turkey.
I for one treated the thing like a live hand grenade. I wouldn’t even look at it sideways.
In fact, my first bite of turkey was taken with great trepidation, figuring if it was that deadly no amount of cooking was going to calm it down.
But bite I did.
Man, Mother could cook. That first bite began a lifelong love affair.
But turkey’s tricky. Whereas I know my way around a grill with ease, not so when it comes to the bird. I haven’t tried turkey very often, but it tends to turn out dry. That’s probably a hangover from the salmonella lectures.
I learned most of my cooking skills before I got married, and turkey is not a bachelor dish, mainly because turkey requires patience. I’ve witnessed and heard of some epic disasters, ranging from giblets being cooked inside the turkey to one instance where one of those pop-up thermometers that shows the turkey was cooked came shooting out and rattled around the inside of the oven like a BB in a soup can.
I also heard of one turkey that was engulfed in foam bubbling out of the oven. The instructions to clean the bird were apparently taken literally.
As to giblets, they tend to be a great surprise package for the uninitiated. Skilled cooks work wondrous stuffing and gravies with them, but for rookies they’re a big slimy bonus gift they had no idea was in the bird. No idea what they are, for that matter.
Turns out if they’re wrapped in paper your bird isn’t ruined. If they’re wrapped in melted plastic … well, you’re eating melted plastic. Bon appetit.
Due the talent of Mother and the other cooks gathered for Thanksgiving, we never had a turkey disaster.
Well, just one, but it wasn’t due to an exploding bird or a giblet misfire.
The moment came on this particular holiday when the food was being laid out, tables groaning with delectable sides, still more tables covered with cakes and pies, when a hushed conversation broke out between Mother and a couple of my sisters.
Panic was in the air.
See, Thanksgiving meals at the height of the family gatherings were logistical challenges akin to the Normandy invasion. Fifty, 60, who knows how many people might show up. The groundwork to feed this army began long in advance, with lists of who would bring what and agreement on division of labor.
This year, some of the plans were garbled in translation. So and so was supposed to provide the ham. So and so would bring mashed potatoes, three-bean salad, a pecan pie and a chocolate cake.
That year about three different people thought three different others were bringing the turkey.
When the reality set in that we were birdless - well, dismay doesn’t begin to describe it. It was akin to the “OH THE HUMANITY” recording from the Hindenberg disaster, a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Fortunately, a resourceful sister was able to lay her hands on some pre-cooked turkey, and all went well. It was still a good meal. A really good meal.
Good enough to satisfy most if it had been their last.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.