On My Mind: This holiday, give thanks for turkey

(Editors note: This column was supposed to run in Farm and Dairy’s Nov. 24/Thanksgiving issue but due to computer problems had to be postponed until the Dec. 1 issue.)

This is the first Thanksgiving in many years that I won’t be cooking dinner, with all the trimmings. I’ve said all along I’d do Easter and Thanksgiving as long as I could and I’ve finally had to concede.

Last year was an effort that wore me plum out, and as much as I am missing all the preparations and the wonderful smells from the oven, to tell the truth, it is almost a relief.

Dorin is home from Dallas to be with her mother and she’ll as always spend time with me, loving up Winnie and Bingo. There is in the kitchen a framed picture of her with Taggie, and that was taken in October of 1986. Taggie is of course long gone but Dorin has been my “daughter” ever since and for several years before then.

I have a small turkey breast in the oven, mostly so there will be those wonderful leftovers. I’ve been invited to Judy’s for the holiday dinner so I won’t be starving. Did you happen to catch PBS’s My Life As A Turkey Nov. 17? It was delightful and a true drama. If it comes around again, don’t miss it.

Once again I am having computer problems, so I’m sending what I wrote before it quit, and also my mother, Berenice T. Steinfeld’s, Thanksgiving column from 1962. How much everything has changed. I wish you a blessed holiday and hope you will be with those you love. Be thankful for what you have and for each day, no matter what you don’t have.

* * *

Thanksgiving, 1962

Man is an ornery critter. Times of plenty can jade his appetite till he forgets his times of lean living. For instance, any of us today can have turkey any time we feel like it, and at a very reasonable price, too. And roast turkey is on the menu of any restaurant the year round. So maybe we are getting blase about that noble dish, now that we can have it any old time.

There was a period of a good 200 years when mankind ate turkey only on Thanksgiving Day. If he could find it and shoot it, or afford to buy it, that is. Turkeys were scarce, they were expensive; they came to be a sort of status food for those who were well fixed enough to afford them once a year.

Fit for a king

Roast turkey was in those days a mouth-watering highlight in a year’s eating, and nobody looked on it lightly. In many families the bird was home grown, hatched out on the place and chosen as a young hen by Grandpa for the honor, on the basis of obvious white meat and dark meat possibilities.

The gobbler gets all the pictorial preferences, because he is a handsome bird to behold. Today’s toms are bred for meat and succulence almost the same as hens. But in the old days, most cooks preferred a hen for the greater amount of white meat. Besides, they were apt to have fewer pinfeathers to be pulled out one by one.

You’ll have to remember every housewife had to pluck and clean her turkey. None of this dashing into the grocery store for your choice of a whole counter of plucked, cleaned, packaged birds. With their drumsticks bucked under their bustles to make the fowl look plump and compact.

And just wait till you try to reach in the cavity for the chopped-off neck, or the package of giblets. For you mighty near dislocate your entire hand trying to squeeze it in, then out again.

If you get so mad you cut that band of skin then the turkey legs get all spraddled apart as the roasting proceeds, and you lose that nice rounded appearance. And who wants to go back to that old way of trussing a turkey for the roaster?

No fun

It was a terrible job to pick and clean a big turkey. Grandpa would do the beheading and hang the bird up by the feet to the peach tree to drain, while the big copper apple butter kettle of water go hot enough for the scalding. The smell of the hot ,wet feathers and cleaning out the interior was a side effect that ruined a fondness for roast turkey for many a woman.

The singeing came next. Then a couple of hours devoted to removing the remaining pin feathers. Breeds today have practically eliminated the pin feather problem. However, lots of us have years of memories of helping Grandma get out all the pin feathers.

Those tough little particles that could spoil a fine delectable browned skin in the roasting. Every single one had to be pulled out carefully, so as not to break the skin.

The children helped crumble the bread for the sage and sausage stuffing, for everyone had a hand in preparing the turkey those days. If it had been a prosperous year there might be oysters in the dressing and a mite of celery.

This corner has, as you all know, a great fondness for old ways. But today, we’ll be a traitor, for Grandpa at his best never raised finer birds then we have available right now. Plump and firm, bred and cross bred for broad breasted juicy meat.

Undoubtedly Grandpa’s special feeding of the turkey was superior for flavor. And to serve his turkey just for Thanksgiving Day was grand for the appetite and appreciation. His pride in raising the bird, too, we’ll never know.

Hope

Of course we can give our thanks to God over a pork chop, or even a hamburger. But just for memory’s sake, we wish every child in this country could, this Thanksgiving Day, have, the privilege of seeing his father, or his grandfather, pause to say grace, and then begin to carve.

Though, being still a child, his thoughts may not be on thanks to God at all, only on that fine brown glazed bird resting in state on Great Grandpa’s big Leeds string edge platter. With the sage fragrant dressing inside, and the crackling crisp shell outside, white meat and dark meat for everybody.

Maybe Benjamin Franklin was right after all, maybe the turkey should have been made the national bird. May we never get too blase to appreciate Thanksgiving dinner, a fitting feast to signify our thanks to God for a year of plenty. No nation on earth can beat it, our strictly American royal bird, roast turkey and fixin’s.

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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