My mother was a very traditional Thanksgiving cook. We always had the same menu: pimento-cheese-celery, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing (not dressing), something orange and squishy, green beans-and-mushroom-soup casserole, pumpkin pie. We loved Thanksgiving, our food, and our turkey—the next day’s sandwiches.
When I became the family matriarch, a title I inherited when Mom didn’t have access to a stove any more and I had an elevator to get her up to our place, I decided to do things differently. Gone was the cheese-stuffed celery, since Bill, our cousin who loved it most, was also gone. Gone also were the green beans, replaced by roasted Brussels sprouts, which have offended certain taste buds big time. My biggest decision, a few years ago, was to do something different with the potatoes. I made gnocchi, sort of, my first try, and one of my sons commented that they looked like goose do. (He’s also the son who said I needed some blood and violence in my novels if I wanted I’d sell them.) I did not repeat that experiment.
So every Thanksgiving, for the past who-knows-now many years under my leadership, has included some food no one at the table has ever experienced. I consider it my duty. I love the risk of cooking something for others that may either please or disgust them. So far, it’s been about fifty-fifty, please/disgust-wise.
This year I determined to attack the turkey. I would do the In thing. I would butterfly it. Spatchcocking, the magazines called it. The bird would fit in the fridge better, in the oven along with the roasted beans, and, according to the articles, brine better (another innovation my mother would have laughed at.) Then my son, the same one as above, sent by mail, a frozen wild turkey to represent him, since he and his family could not join us, at the table.
This bird’s breasts Dolly Parton would yearn for. All that flying, you know. It doesn’t matter that he is male, these breasts are for flying, the skinny legs for landing. And our first view of Henry, we named him, is bloody juice, leaking from the box my son had mailed him in, all over the entry of my building. Our mailman will get a nice thank you at Christmas, since Henry had also leaked all over his vehicle.
Wild turkeys are a different color than the ones that sit around getting fed hormones and antibiotics, and corn. He was pretty red, even his chest, and he continued to leak a little, in a sickening kind of way, as we debated spatchcocking first then brining, or the reverse? Brining of wild turkeys is important. Those big breasts are tough babies from working so hard
Henry did not spatchcock easily. His bones were really tough; we had to saw at his backbone with a carving knife, and pound and stand on his chest to flatten him into a butterfly. At some point, I felt so sorry for him, I wanted to quit. I couldn’t, of course. He was due at a Thanksgiving dinner table. I’ll take the results out of the oven in a couple of days,
Along with Henry, I have taken another Thanksgiving risk. I’ve spatchcocked Graffiti Grandma. She is now being worked over by someone other than me. I’ve given her over to people who will shape her up, make her look good, maybe make her taste better, turn her into a new presence. This too, is a risk. For her, for me. For a year, I wanted to treat her in my own traditional “I can do it myself” way. I’m now allowing someone to take over, butterfly her. I’ll find out the results in a few weeks.