Clippings by Trent Campbell: Just take it one turkey at a time

I have a problem and I blame my mom. No, I don’t have mommy issues. And I am not consulting self-help books. I am, however, consulting with the Food Network. You see, I suffer from TCD — Turkey Compulsive Disorder — and, of course, at this time of year it really starts to flare up.
It started when I was a kid. Every Thanksgiving my mom and dad would rise at three in the morning to prep and stuff a giant turkey before wrestling it into a barely warm oven. By nine the wafting aroma would tickle me awake and gently carry me downstairs like a pre-adolescent Homer Simpson. “Mmmmmm … turkey,” was my morning greeting.
Throughout the rest of the morning, about every half hour, my mom would open the oven door and stick a bulb baster into the bubbling juices and liquid fat sizzling away in the bottom of the roasting pan and then give the golden-skinned bird a good dousing. Sometimes an errant splash from the baster would hit the hot oven floor and a steam cloud of Thanksgiving goodness would fill the kitchen and fog the windows.
When the turkey was finally done my mom would get busy with the gravy. She added water and flour and her secret ingredient, a beef bouillon cube, to the drippings in the roasting pan and then got it roiling on the stovetop. By this time my brain, my heart and, most of all, my belly, were roiling too. The warmth of the kitchen, the fogged windows, the gathered family and the smells … oh, the smells, put me on an infinite path, a never-ending quest, to find, as an adult, my own holy grail of turkey perfection.
And it hasn’t been an easy journey. Most of my mom’s techniques have fallen out of favor. You can’t stuff the bird anymore. You can’t roast it low and slow. And no basting. As a TCD sufferer I am bombarded with, and feel compelled to experiment with, all of the new techniques. Nowadays you can brine (soak the bird in a salt bath overnight), deep fry (seems dangerous), grill (too cold outside), salt (massage the skin with salt the night before), flip mid-roast (don’t drop it) or butcher the bird and roast it in pieces (sacrilege!).
The pressure to recreate my mom’s Thanksgiving is getting to be too much. Even now, as I write this Monday afternoon, I have turkey wings browning in butter in a pot on my stove to make a base for my gravy on Thursday. When I finish this paragraph I will add onion and celery and carrot. By the time I type in this column’s final words the mixture, with several cups of water added, will be gently simmering away.
Every Thanksgiving people tell me my turkey is delicious. I’m not so sure. I have to keep improving. I have to keep searching. Maybe the journey will end right around the next corner, but it hasn’t ended yet. I am always looking for a new path and I may have found one after talking to my in-laws recently. It turns out my wife Nikki’s great-grandmother took the idea of local, organic turkeys to a new level.
Several generations ago in Slovenia you didn’t just walk to the supermarket to pick up a frozen Butterball. And there was no Thanksgiving either, but once a year a roving pair of turkey herders would wander from village to village and walk a flock of turkeys down Main Street. If you could afford it you picked one out, gave it a place to live in your back yard and started to fatten it up for a future meal. Nikki’s great-grandmother apparently invited the turkey inside the house a couple of times a day and hand-fed it while sitting at the kitchen table. I like that.
But I think I could kick it up a notch. What if instead of inviting a turkey in twice a day I had it inside all day? It could get used to the kitchen. I could give it dry rub massages once a week. I could make it a little necklace out of sage leaves. And remember brining? How about a salt bath every night? Oh, my mind is really racing now, but I should go. I am feeling a little twinge of TCD and I have gravy to attend to. Happy Thanksgiving.
A TURKEY, CERTAINLY on many people’s minds this week, wanders free and easy on an Addison County farm earlier this year.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

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