By: Dennis Bates
Can you smell it yet? I can, and already it’s driving me crazy. Two pumpkin pies and two pecan pies are cooling on racks on the kitchen counter. My wife has been working on them and several other dishes all morning.
Sometime this afternoon I will rinse the turkey out, chop the onions and the celery for the stock and put the neck and giblets into the stock to give it flavor. Then the smells intensify to the point that the taste buds of anticipation almost take over reason entirely. Just before we go to bed, I will put the stock and the chopped up giblets into a bowl until morning.
Sometime before it’s even light my wife will start slow cooking the mulled cider and my overloaded olfactory senses will be stimulated again with cloves, cinnamon, orange and allspice bringing the hot apple flavors to life. In the meantime I will season the chunks of bread with both dried and freshly chopped sage from our herb patch and warm up the stock.
When the stock is warm, I’ll pour it through a strainer onto the bread, add more onion and celery and more sage if necessary. I save the chopped up giblets for the gravy, promising my wife that I removed the liver, which I rarely do. I turn the turkey on end in the sink and pack the stuffing into the body cavity and the small neck cavity, tie the legs together and put it on the rack in the roaster.
I pour a half to a whole bottle of either red or white wine over the turkey so that it will stay moist and absorb all the basting flavors better, then brush the turkey with a very generous amount of melted butter. Finally I salt a pepper the entire bird, patting the seasoning into the butter and wine soaked bird so it sticks.
As soon as I put the lid on the roaster, I can smell it cooking. It’s a miracle smell like no other smell anywhere, and I try not to get too crazy at that point because I know the fragrance is only going to get stronger and more tempting for the next five or six hours. Still, I look forward to basting the bird every half hour with more melted butter and crackling drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan, and I steal deep breaths shamelessly pretending to check to see if the turkey is getting done.
When our 15 to 20 guests finally arrive, I remove the turkey from the pan and try to convince my brother he should carve the turkey because he does it so much better than I do. It’s the only part of this annual ritual I really don’t like, perhaps because I can never cut the nice even slices you see in pictures and it frustrates me to see chunks of meat instead of picture perfect slices.
I heat up the roaster to high heat; deglaze the pan with just a touch of whatever open bottle of wine happens to be the closest; and mix in the left over stock and some potato water saved from boiling the potatoes. Potato water is part of the secret family recipe we use every year.
And then we eat. All day. Between naps and meaningless football games that help us sleep. And we have pie topped with fresh whipped cream promising ourselves that we aren’t going to eat any more, but somehow we do.
Can you smell it yet? I can. I can smell Thanksgiving, family and traditions that I hope never die, but keep getting passed down the line just as they were passed to me.
And I’m so thankful for all of them. Full, but thankful.