Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Raw Turkey Anyone?

I bet I never told you the story about the very first turkey I ever cooked, did I? Well, get yourself a cup of coffee and get comfy in your computer chair. Here goes.

As a bride of only one year, Ole moved me off to the NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland. Prior to that time we lived in a small (very small) mobile home in a mobile home park on a lot about the size of a postage stamp. Needless to say, this didn’t make for good entertaining capabilities, so I hadn’t done much cooking or meal planning for more than just the two of us. I am fortunate that Ole will eat anything I put in front of him, and in those early days never complained about my amateurish cooking - with one exception.

His favorite pie was banana cream pie. It’s not anymore cuz I think I ruined it for him. I’ll tell you this short little story before I get to the Turkey Delight.

Anyway, one Saturday when I was at home and he was working I thought I would surprise him with not one, but two banana cream pies. I worked so hard on making the piecrust from scratch – none of those store-bought crusts for me. I filled the pies with the banana pudding and sliced bananas and then came to the meringue. I’m not a fan of meringue myself, but in Ole’s world banana cream pie had to have meringue because that’s the way his mother always made it (any of you ladies heard that before?)

So I dug out my trusty old Good Housekeeping cookbook from 1957, looked up the recipe and proceeded. I broke and separated a half dozen eggs and proceeded to beat the living H-E-double toothpicks out of them, added the cream of tarter and then realized I was supposed to also add sugar – according to this recipe two tablespoons per egg white. Well, somewhere in my Young Bride brain I left behind the word tablespoon and superimposed the word cup. As I gradually added 12 cups of sugar to the six eggs, the peaks kept getting higher and higher. After putting the meringue on the pies I tucked them into the oven for browning. I watched carefully and pulled them out just at the right time – beautiful high peaks of meringue that were golden brown on the tips. Picture perfect.

They were sitting on the counter cooling when Ole came home that night. He couldn’t wait to sample so grabbed a fork to dip in for a bit of a taste. I happened to be in the other end of the mobile home, but I could hear when the fork hit the meringue with a loud TWANG so hard it bent the tines. Then he tried it again in a different spot and again on the other pie. Same results – TWANG! Then he chuckled and asked me where I had gone that day to get concrete? That’s when I discovered that 12 cups of sugar is just a bit much for 6 egg whites. Actually, I haven’t made meringue since. Now if Ole wants something on top of his banana cream pie he gets Cool Whip!! Remember – simplify your life.

Anyway, back to the turkey in Iceland. We lived off base by choice when we lived in Iceland. We thought as long as we were there we might as well enjoy as much of the flavor of the country as possible. But this did present one itty-bitty problem. In order to buy groceries at the commissary and take them off base there were a number of steps you had to go through. First of all you were only allowed to take a preset dollar amount of groceries off base on a weekly basis. This was called your Take-off Allowance. This was all due to the fact that the Icelandic government didn’t want American goods making a negative impact on their economy. Guess they were afraid we’d sell all that cheap American food to the Nationals or something. Once you had made your food purchases for the week you had forms to fill out and then had to go through Icelandic Customs where they would check your bags and make sure you didn’t have more than what you claimed. Yah, this was a pain in the neck, but it didn’t take us or all the other Americans living off base to figure out ways around this little bottleneck. I won’t go into them now, as that’s another story, but if we’d been caught we would have had a criminal record for “international smuggling.” How’s THAT for being a bad girl?

We rented a large house off base overlooking the ocean, which made for a beautiful view with all the snowcapped mountains across the fjord. Because our house was so big it was always kind of Grand Central Station not only for other married couples but also the single guys stationed there, and the guys who had to leave their wives back in the States. Kind of a sanctuary to get away from all the military bullshit that would take place on a NATO base. So I got the bright idea that I would fix Thanksgiving dinner for all these guys that frequented our house. Now, for someone who’s never fixed a turkey before in their life, that wasn’t exactly an intelligent decision.

First off, getting the turkey presented a problem, let alone not knowing how to cook one. The commissary had ordered a limited number of turkeys that year, most of them going to the officers which left very little for the enlisted personnel to pick from. And because I was having a number of hungry guys for dinner I knew I’d need more than a 12 pounder, which was about all there was left. Not only was the size a problem, but also by the time I had purchased everything else I needed for dinner I had reached my limit of Take Off Allowance. Never fear – the guys in the Supply Department where I worked, unbeknown to me, came to my rescue.

One afternoon, shortly before Thanksgiving, one of the guys who drove the supply truck through the gates out to the remote sites on a daily basis came up to my office and asked for my house keys. I didn’t question him about why, because several of the guys kept extra sets of clothing at our house so they could change into civies (civilian clothes) once they were through the gates. The Icelandic government requested that all military men, regardless of their rank, be dressed in uniform when they were off base. Guess it was a good way to keep track of them or something. So Bud picked up my house keys, and about an hour later came back to my office and returned them. When I got home that night, I walked into the kitchen and there sat a 28 lb. turkey in my kitchen sink – frozen solid – and only three days until Thanksgiving. Remember – I had never cooked a turkey in my life and I’m presented with this behemoth!! Somehow I wrestled that thing around in my sink for the next several days trying to get it thawed out, having to twist and turn it periodically because only about a third of it would sit underwater. It still had ice crystals inside when I stuck my hand in to take out the “interior parts.” And of course it didn’t have a pop up timer either. So Thanksgiving morning came and I was up at 5 a.m. stuffing that dam bird. I put it in a pan, opened the oven door and then realized that this bird was NOT going to fit into the oven of an Icelandic kitchen stove (they’re somewhat smaller than our American appliances.) After taking out all the oven wracks and jostling things around a bit, binding the turkey legs tighter to the body, I finally managed to get Mr. Turkey into the oven with neck and butt each touching the oven wall on their respective sides. Obviously there was no room for anything else in that oven.

I had invited everyone for dinner at 4 p.m. The guests arrived, 4 p.m. came and went, we fed them more wine, 5 p.m. came and went, more wine, wash, rinse, repeat. By 7 o’clock the bird finally decided it was done, although the rest of the meal was somewhat dried out, when we finally sat down to eat. The outer parts of the turkey were pretty good, but down by the bones things were still a bit on the pink side – not quite done. But after that much wine nobody really cared anyway.

Since then I’ve had a lot more practice, so things turn out a bit better now.

What happened when you cooked your first turkey??? C'mon - share the story.

Love Lena


Marge said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting today! I just read your turkey story, and now I know I'll have to go back and read more of your posts.

My husband was in the Air Force for 20 years, although we lived no where as exotic as Iceland! Grand Forks AFB doesn't quite measure up! We too invited the single GI's over on holidays, and Sundays, and whenever! I remember those days fondly.......what a close community we became!

Come back and see me.....I'll be back here!


Susan said...

Lena, loved your turkey story. Reminds me of my first T Day in Fort Knox and also the small ovens in Germany. Will have to blog about that myself.

Shear said...

Here's my first turkey story. You know those "interior parts" you wrote of? I had no idea about those things and they got cooked along with the plastic bag they came in. The turkey turned out picture perfect but had plastic all melted in the cavity. Nasty. I will never live that one down. It is brought up every single Thanksgiving.

harrietv said...

There was no urgency to my first turkey. My husband had received a free turkey from work, which I had to cook, but Thanksgiving was still at my mother's house in those days.

I decided not to stuff it, so it would take less time, and made a big bowl of "stuffing" to stick in the oven during the last hur or so. That was when I discovered that, in an unstuffed turkey, a lot of juice collects in the cavity as it roasts. (When it is no longer pink, you know you're just about done!) So I ladled all that juice into the bowl of stuffing, and that turned out to be a favorite dish for our family in subsequent years.

Yes, I have stuffed birds since, with extra stuffing pushed under the skin (keeps the breast meat from drying out), but I still make a bowl of stuffing too.

P.Shepard said...

I actually had pretty good experience as a young bride with a was the turkey we tried to fry 5 years ago that undid BIL's turkey frier exploded in the back yard taking said turkey with it...flaming fire balls it was...Thanks to the Reynolds cooking bag and an extra turkey...we ate only 2 hours late.

P.Shepard said...

BTW..That's me...Paula in Elgin commenting above...P. Shepard is my pen name (for when I become famous you know).

Anonymous said...

I don't have a good turkey story myself but one to share. A friend who lived by another good friend used to have a rival about their turkeys. Friend #1 roasted a huge turkey and put it in the garage to cool so he could carve it. Friend #2's huge dog was let out of the house, jumped the fence and guessed it...ate that turkey up bones and all.

capitolady said...

Well since I have only once had to cook the turkey in the nearly 18 years of our marriage I count myself lucky. My man is a great cook. I am only now starting to get interested in cooking. My biggest stumbling block is my need to cook at light speed. Now as long as I don't cook everything on high, I'm good.

I have always done deserts since I was little so the sweet stuff comes out good.