Thanksgiving’s Fantastic Family Treat
[Harry M. Covert: The tune, Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go …raced through my mind this week. My grandma’s house was across the street and the wonderful aromas of homemade rolls and biscuits, cakes and pies and other dinner ecstasies always flowed. I remember them joyfully to this day. With all of this, a childhood friend we knew as Dimples, high school chum and longtime reader of The Covert Letter, sent in her Grandmother Ruth’s Thanksgiving recipe.]
By Sepi Prichard
Been reading The Covert Letter and, as always, not bad. Remember all those Thanksgiving Days at Saunders Stadium in Newport News (Va.) and Darling Stadium in Hampton? Fun and then family dinners. A day of Gold and Blue and Red and White.
My grandmother gave me her handwritten recipe for our Turkey Day. Believe me, it was good in my childhood and even better now. Here’s how she wrote:
“You need to go to a grocery and reserve a fresh turkey… preferably a hen. The weight is up to you but it depends on how many you plan on feeding. The butcher should know.”
On Thanksgiving morning I looked forward to not only eating the turkey and trimmings at my grandparents’ house, but smelling them as we walked in the back door.
Grandma Ruth was prompt and the turkey and all the fixings were
on the table at 1 o’ clock.
Later, when I was leaning to cook she gave me instructions on how to prepare the turkey, always a fresh hen, the dressing and the gravy. She said the rest of the dinner was up to me and those invited.
Always wash the turkey with cold water, inside and out, dry it inside and out, especially the inside. Turn the turkey on what used to be its head. Rub the inside with soft sweet butter and add some salt. She did this by pouring salt in her hand and putting her hand inside the turkey, trying to reach every nook and cranny in the cavity. Turn the turkey on the back, turn and repeat that same process under the flap of skin where the neck and head used to be. Return the bird to the refrigerator.
Dressing. Wash and shake off the remaining water from a bunch of celery, set aside. Cut the tender tops off and put in a bowl of water and refrigerate.
Slice a large white onion into thin strips, cut in half, set aside.
Get a large frying pan, turn heat on low and put two sticks of sweet butter in pan to slowly melt.
About this time I was tearing up about two large loaves of white bread into medium chunks and placing them in a large container. Grandma Ruth turned on the oven to 450 degrees, you’ll see why.
The butter was beginning to melt and the onions and celery and salt, pepper and Bell’s Poultry Seasoning were put in the pan and cooked on a medium heat until translucent. Stir gently.
If you can’t find Bell’s Poultry Seasoning get another brand, but Bell’s is best. Set it aside for use later. (It still comes in a small yellow cardboard box with a turkey on the front).
When the onions and celery are ready, pour over the bread. You can use a rubber glove to squish it all together. Mix well; add more melted butter if needed. It should not be too wet, but the consistency of snow that will make a good, packed snowball.
Lift the flap of skin on the front of the bird and put stuffing there, pushing it tight with your knuckles formed into a fist, pull the flap over the stuffing…tight. Turn the bird again to the business end. Repeat process with stuffing, packing the bird halfway. When turkey is half full, put the turkey heart in the middle of the stuffing and resume stuffing the bird, packing well.
Have more soft unsalted butter on hand and proceed to massage the turkey with the butter until the bird is covered, even the bottom. Put in the turkey roaster, uncovered and mix paprika and poultry seasoning together and sprinkle all over the turkey. Put the turkey in hot oven (450 degrees) and stay in the kitchen for about 15 to 30 minutes. (This browns the skin keeping the juices inside the turkey.)
Depending on the size of the turkey reduce heat to 375, when you smell the paprika begin to scorch. Prepare what you plan on having with the turkey. Keep an eye on the turkey, and when you smell it and the skin is brown make a aluminum tent folded lengthwise and place on top of the turkey. Use a pair of tongs or a cooking fork and wiggle the leg of the turkey. If it moves back and forth freely the turkey is close to being done.
Check again in 20 minutes. This time poke through the skin between the thigh and the body of the turkey. If clear juice runs out, the bird is done. Remove from oven, place on a platter and let sit for 20 minutes. Then remove stuffing and place in a dish that can be covered.
About the heart. Let cool about five minutes and slice it into bite size, or, if you have someone special that you have invited, offer them the heart, if they turn up their nose, eat it yourself. It is a tender morsel of flesh, the heart of the meal and just enough to make you feel like you haven’t eaten in weeks. My two uncles and I would fight over it, sometimes I won, because granddad would give the boys THE look. Other times he would cut it into three pieces and we would each enjoy the appetizer. Never enough but the rest was yet to come.
Of course remove the wire rack the turkey cooked on and using the same pan, put it on top of the stove on a low to medium heat. Use the round container of shaker flour, I use Pillsbury. This kind of flour will not clump. Take the celery tops out of the fridge and as the gravy thickens add the celery tops, add cold water to the mixture, a little flour, a little water, keep stirring until the thickness desired is reached. Remove the pan from the burner. Remove the celery tops and discard. If any tops are left over, use them to decorate the turkey for presentation. Grandma Ruth used three green olives between the leaves, use lettuce if you prefer, and three black pitless olives alternating between the leaves.
Granddad always cut the turkey. I did notice he cut the right side first and put the slices in the turkey to keep them warm and then transferred them to a smaller platter when being served. Always put some dark meat from the leg on the platter or toss a coin if someone prefers the entire drumstick!
Happy Thanksgiving…. ‘ESS and be happy.
P.S. Turn off the oven and burners and rinse any pots that are starchy with cold water, the cold water will keep the starch from sticking to the pan and it washes like a dream.