Starting in 1967 and for many years, a bunch of us who were single and courting and subsequently married folk, gathered for Thanksgiving. We divided the food preparation almost by status, with the host gaining the honor of cooking the turkey, and others the subsidiary fare. I started out making a baked onion casserole. Sound strange? It’s delicious. You take Vidalia onions—very sweet—peel and slice them in half, and put them in a glass baking dish with some “cream-a”: cream of mushroom, chicken, onion, celery, or broccoli soup, thickened with flour and some milk. Top with a little nutmeg, some nice sharp cheese and bake at 350 until the onions are soft—not more than one hour. Or, another approach, use olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with herbs, and sprinkle with some kind of smashing goat cheese and hummus. Oooh baby!
My girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife couldn’t cook a hamburger, but somewhere she learned to make a mean rhubarb pie, so that was her specialty. One year we found ourselves the host, and so had the honor of the turkey. Thanksgiving day arrived somehow without a pan big enough for that twenty-four pound buzzard. Casting around, I hit on an idea. I disassembled my Coleman gasoline stove, and used the bottom half, lined with foil, as a roasting pan. That was in ’71 or so—I still have that Coleman stove, and you can still see the carbon burn marks from roasting that turkey. After dinner we’d play Risk, talk and drink ’til the wee hours. Dig it: a bunch of “lefties” competing for world hegemony.
Years later the zaniness of that story was eclipsed by the tale told by a girlfriend, who was scheduled to eat with her relatives at her dad’s house. I had some place to be and missed this party. Now . . . her dad loved football on Thanksgiving, but, defying the threat of a daughter’s curse, also insisted on preparing the turkey—after all, he was the host, right? So while the very large avifauna was in the oven he lay on the couch watching the Packers and the Bears or some such, and, of course, anesthetized by god’s gift of spirituous imbibitions, fell asleep. By the time the guests arrived the vulture was thoroughly overcooked, girlfriend’s dad was thoroughly drunk, and in the course of conveying the quavering dish to the table it slid off the plate and exploded upon contact with the floor.
The turkey emerged from the conflagration an hour later perfectly cooked.
One more turkey story. My mighty son (long may he prosper) found himself the ring leader of a mob of graduate-school-cum-Bluegrass-musician friends on Thanksgiving who were possessed of a huge turkey—almost a turk-zilla—unfortunately still frozen, and a collectively-ravening hunger fueled by the usual student poverty with maybe a touch donated a fellow named George Dickel? So what were they to do? Mighty son, never at a loss for an idea, contrived to build a fire outdoors beneath a thirty-gallon drum filled with oil. When the contents reached fission temperature they lowered the bird by means of a rod and sling (thank god, or there would have been serious injuries) whereupon—the frozen bird reacting with the thermonuclear oil—an explosion commenced which thankfully (this is Thanksgiving, after all) only ignited the jackets and sweaters of the startled ethanol and banjo-powered onlookers. The turkey, I’m proud to report (since the idea was hatched ferae naturae by Number One Son) emerged from the conflagration an hour later perfectly cooked, and, not-for-the-first-time, my progeny emerged a hero. He promises to top that with a home-brined product that he will serve to me when at last I am reunited with my soon-to-be-augmented family in a trip to D.C. on the second week of December.
Wishing you and yours a merry season, in hungry anticipation, for Michiana Chronicles, I am David James.