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posted: 11/11/2010 12:01 AM

Batavia turkey pro has heard it all on Thanksgiving

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Have you ordered the turkey yet? Thanksgiving is only two weeks away.

It's time to pull out the old traditional recipes that your grandmother made and your mom improved upon. It's time to make that grocery list, and get ready to cook.

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For new couples, cooking the meal for the first time can be stressful, especially if it is for the in-laws. Now is the time to check and recheck those cherished recipes to make sure they make it to the table in the same way that your grandmother intended.

When I first made Thanksgiving for my in-laws, it wasn't my first encounter with a turkey, but it was memorable. In an effort to impress my in-laws with my ability to roast a big beautiful bird, I bought a large 24-pounder. While it rested for the night in the basement fridge, I rearranged the upstairs fridge to accommodate the large turkey.

When I went to the basement to retrieve the bird, I found that the fridge was warm to the touch. Worried that the bird might be spoiled and I might kill everyone at the table, I sent my husband out for a second turkey. When he returned with a bird that was frozen solid, I cried fowl, literally, and tried to thaw the turkey under water. Finally, it was a mad dash to the store to get a small fresh turkey, which I cooked perfectly, I might add.

That year, I learned that turkey freezes quite well and that there are a multitude of ways to use turkey in sandwiches, casseroles and soups. Although I did consider holiday gift bags, I did reject the idea of putting it in the Christmas stockings.

Creating your first Thanksgiving dinner can be quite intimidating. For Paula Issel, it was a labor of love that took place at a horse farm in Kentucky.

"I really wasn't worried about it because I could cook and I could follow a recipe," said Issel. "But the first thing I read was put the bird with the breast side up in the roaster, and I looked at both sides to try and figure out which was the breast side. I remember taking the wings to try and figure out how the bird would fly and then my brother reminded me that turkeys don't fly."

Issel also remembers receiving a turkey from her employer at Batavia Bank. She offered to take an additional turkey home for an employee who was on vacation. She put it into the garage and promptly forgot about it until spring when the fragrant aroma of spoiled turkey wasn't quite so appealing as the smell of a roasting turkey.

Turkeys may not fly high but they certainly run "afowl" every now and then.

Depot Museum volunteer coordinator Lois Benson had been married quite some time when she took out a turkey to serve for her husband Dick's family.

"I opened this turkey that we had gotten as an office gift and it was very black. I knew I couldn't serve it," she said. "I had all of the ingredients to make lasagna so I made one with zucchini and other vegetables. That's when I found out that Dick's dad doesn't like zucchini."

New couples, beware. Sometimes the pressure for cooking for your partner's family can carry right into Christmas.

"Both (my wife) Chris and I are Polish," said Tony Winter. "When we had my parents over for our first Christmas Eve, I realized that Chris and I never really talked about Christmas Eve traditions."

A Christmas conversation might have saved some time in the kitchen.

"I brought out this beautiful roast and couldn't believe that no one took any of it. They only ate the side dishes," said Chris, Depot Museum curator. "That's when I found out that Tony's family never eats meat on Christmas Eve."

Batavian Sue Blazek, who has been a Butterball Turkey Hotline operator for 20 years, has heard just about every story in the book. Although she has counseled newlyweds on cooking their first turkey, she admits that it took quite a while before she even was given the opportunity to cook the Thanksgiving bird.

"My mother always cooked the turkey and she didn't really want to give up doing it," she said. "Even though I was a Home Economics major, I kept calling my mom when I made the turkey for the first time."

For Blazek, the most pressure occurred when she was a room mother for Kathy Hubbard's class at H.C. Storm School.

"Kathy Hubbard called me and asked me to make a turkey for the Thanksgiving feast and I was very nervous," she added. "I was so afraid that it wouldn't be done and I would be making all of these little second-graders sick."

Now Sue Blazek calms the nerves of cooks, young and old, who take on the Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Calls are already trickling in about what size turkey to get and how to thaw a frozen bird.

"Most are so worried because they have never done it before," she said. "We just tell them to practice on a chicken and then work their way up to a turkey."

My advice to new cooks is this. If someone at the table complains that the turkey is too dry or too brown, just remind them that there should only be one turkey at the table and that's the one on the platter.

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