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Standard Bronze Wins the Gold

I can’t write anything about Thanksgiving without beginning with gratitude. Working in the field of addiction treatment I see first hand the power of that emotion, those thoughts and actions, allowing acceptance of present day realities as a platform for a better life. I saw a meme going around happiness doesn’t make you grateful, gratitude makes you happy. There’s a lot of truth there.

Nonetheless Thanksgiving takes it on the chin as a celebration of colonial imperialism and a day devoted to gluttony and excess. I was chatting with an individual of Native American extraction who asked about my holiday plans and after sharing them I asked after his. He said he wasn’t making a big of it because it didn’t have positive associations for him as the whole thing turned out. I couldn’t do anything but apologize. Another friend rails against Thanksgiving like its an abhorrent thing and his angst ridden pseudo-suffering seems more like an excuse to judge. I could do nothing but ignore it.

For me, a fan of both family and community and cooking good food, its a day to be celebrated without limits. I am a fan of what I call “the good life”, living well but in harmony. I wanted to make a feast but without promoting things that I find abhorrent. And with the able assistance of my housemate Kevin we cooked the shit out of this Thanksgiving with local sustainably raised stuff and put out a feast we could be proud of.

You may recall the cooking began last week when I made chicken stock out of the bits and pieces of my roasting chicken I had made the open up room in the freezer. I also got my shopping done but only because Kevin made a couple of trips to the store so I could add a few things.

Tuesday I picked up my bird. I had ordered an heirloom turkey at the Root Cellar a couple weeks back and learned they would do first come first serve at 10:00 but I had already booked a 2 hour 9:30. I wanted a big one under the mistaken notion that females are bigger and you get more white meat. Actually when I looked up the particular on the Standard Bronze I ended up with I learned males are bigger which makes a lot of sense when I think of it.

Regardless, my friend Gretchen had agreed to pick it up for me at 10:00 and I drove to her place on my lunch hour. Helpfully, Fresh Air was replaying a segment from 1987, I think, with a food chemist on how to roast a turkey. She said brine it overnight with a cup of salt, 2 cups for giant turkeys and more if you use Kosher salt. This is of course for fresh birds only. Corporate birds are pre-brined of course amongst other things in their little plastic shells.

The show had just gone on to touch on the trickiness of getting the thighs & legs up to 155 degrees without overcooking the breast when I got to Gretchens. I considered hearing her out but I was on my lunch hour and still had hopes of getting lunch. Apparently Terri Gross is pretty attached to this segment so maybe I’ll catch it next year but I made a note of the phenomenon and got my bird.

I had to give Gretchen more money because it was a mammoth thing at 21 #s and at $7.50 a pound it was a chunk of change. A considerable chunk of change. But for good reason. Turkey farming is tricky being willful birds prone to total die offs for more then a couple reasons. Bobtail Whites, the 99.9% turkey of choice is sedate and unnaturally big breasted to the point of not being able to bread without a turkey baster anymore. They can fly and get into more mischief and you factor in inputs and risk and no externalized costs (corporate turkeys pollute the water, eat commercial corn with all of its issues, and are charnal houses of horror that diminish the souls of everyone who devours them) and they are appropriately priced.

To live in a world of small family farms we have to pay more. Right now Americans only spend 7% or so of their income on food. Cheap food is expensive to the planet, the farmer, and our communities. Europe spends around 10% and I think in the Philippines they pay 40%, some countries are higher. Regardless of all that it was cool enough to leave the turkey in the car until after work when I threw it in the fridge.

Wednesday morning I pulled the Rouge Vif D’Etampes Pumpkin(AKA Cinderella pumpkin)  off the front porch, washed it good, cut it in half, scooped out the guts and baked on a cookie sheet with some water and pumpkin spices (just to scent the house). I roasted the seeds (greased cookie sheet with olive oil, sprinkle with Bob’s Steak Seasoning [corporate seasoned sugar/salt Dad bought]) which were not numerous but big and juicy and they came out good.

I cooked the pumpkin until it was soft, could’ve been softer, peeled and mashed and beat. I had promised Kevin I would blend it when I offered to prep the pumpkin vs using the canned variety but I was already overwhelmed by the pumpkin mess I had so far for a before work morning, even on my late day. {I just made a second pot of coffee for this cold and rainy Saturday morning, its a medium roast South Seas coffee I roasted last weekend, oh so delicious, and the 2nd press pot is such a luxury.}

Wednesday night I brined the turkey. I did it in the bag and added a cup of salt (1/2 canning salt, all I had), water and all the ice in the freezer (and they laughed when I threw the rest of the bag in the freezer at my last Summer party). After thinking about it and the pasture raised turkey being a little tough last year I added another 3/4 cup iodized salt (all that I had). The radio lady said it could be crusted on, you just got to rinse it good.

I put the bag in a bucket and the bucket in the basement/garage (I am blessed with a split level new readers). Then I realized I didn’t really know how to cook a turkey. Up until this year my method was to say “Hey Mom” or later “Hey Dad, how do you cook a turkey again?” This is why grief is intrinsically a year long commitment. You never really know what someone means to you until they’re not there and you have to experience the loss.

With my mom it was pickles. Thinking of the seasons it must have been 6 or 7 months after she died, I know I wasn’t thinking of it every day anymore, when Amee, my wife at the time, was talking to her mom about her making pickles. It hit me like a thunderclap, I would never again eat my mom’s pickles and I just started crying.

But thank God now orphans have the internet and Whole Paycheck, though lacking any other parental quality reminded me of the particulars of roasting a turkey. I see why they hold the 1 spot on Google as it was easy to find, well organized and comprehensive. They recommended less salt in the brine but I was undaunted because you don’t make a lot of money selling salt but you do selling “healthier” food. (You always have to factor in the economic angle of who is providing your information). They did mention you are supposed to pull out the squishy things which I had forgotten to do and pulled them and the sizable neck out of Tom’s yahoo.

I think we do our birds at 350 1/4 hour per pound and Whole Paycheck said 325-375 so I felt good about that. On the breast up or down debate they split the difference with an hour of down and flip it so you get the best of both worlds, juicier breast and crisped up skin. Cover it with foil but uncover for an hour, which Kevin suggested half the time covered, half uncovered, under the theory you can always cover it back up if it gets done to quick as I had been bouncing my research off him as he wrapped up his first day of solid cooking.

Thursday I got going on the turkey around 7:30. I pulled it out of the ice water and rinsed it good and gave it an hour to get rid of the chill before going into the oven which both Kevin and Whole Paycheck recommended. It took me near that amount of time to deal with it. I carefully went over the pretty thick skin and pulled out feather pieces. Bronzes are notorious for this I later read and this turkey lived up to it. Knowing it was intrinsic to the breed made me feel better. After laying out a ton of money I was kind of expecting perfection.

I also rubbed the bird with olive oil and stuffed with a quartered orange (Kevin’s idea) that had been hanging in the fridge for a while, left over fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme) Kevin had bought for the dressing with some marjoram and oregano from the garden. I also shoved in a few pieces of celery, heavy on the leafy part and a few whole cloves of garlic.

I added a pint of seasoned chicken stock and 1/2 bottle of an Italian white wine. I didn’t pre-heat the oven on consideration of the letting the turkey get to room temp made me think a gradual rise in temp was better. I folded in my turkey and wrapped in foil on the bottom rack because that’s the only way it would fit. Got her going at 8:30 as planned.

I made stock out of the neck, organs & folds of skin from the neck end and the ass end and I threw in the ass as well. I added marjoram and oregano and mace and set that to simmer for 4 hours.

Kevin helped me flip the bird and yest that pun was used which was a little tricky but wooden spoons up both ends did the job. 1/2 hour later and a 1/2 hour later I basted again. At its weight I was anticipating a 5 1/4 hour cook time with checking it a 1/2 hour early recommended by Whole Paycheck I pulled the foil off. Before then Kevin had made wing tip booties to keep them from getting over done.

The breast got nice and bronzed early so we put a piece of foil over that. We checked the temp in the crook of the thigh and we got 155 at 12:30 and pulled it out to rest until carving.

The dark meat was strong tasting, almost gamy and was hard to carve. The white meat was incredibly delicious. Juicy and intensely flavorful, I couldn’t have been more pleased. There was a layer of subcutaneous fat and the thin was thick so it wasn’t particularly edible but you shouldn’t be eating that stuff anyway. There was some integument I’ve been cutting out and tossing to Fido as well but I suspect that’s the cost of doing business with having birds that walk around and lead a life.

Reviews were very positive, it was a fine looking bird and people liked it. It was part of an excellent meal with a great assemblage of interesting people and was a pretty nice Thanksgiving. In addition to the turkey I also did mashed potatoes; red new potatoes with the skins on mashed with butter, whole milk and sour cream and sprinkled with minced wild onions (the fall crop is in, if you get them early they are like a more pungent chive, much better in my opinion).

Kevin did an array of from the basics with foody flair and put over 16 hours in the kitchen in two days. The guests brought some wonderful items as well leading to a colorful array of delectable morsels. Kevin paired the meal with a Stone Hill (out of Hermann MO) Norton that was excellent, dry and flavorful. We probably were easily pushing 90% local for the spread and it tasted like it.

I would like to tell you about the party and I may but I’ve been writing this post for days and my coffees getting drunk and I am wanting to get about my day three of a a four day weekend. A trip to the store, some house cleaning while I have momentum and its getting to be Christmas tree time, perhaps tomorrow.

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