My First Turkey


It was a year of firsts. I’m not mentioning the date except to say it was a very long time ago. JFK was campaigning for the presidency. I had graduated from college, gotten married a few months later and my husband and I were living in our first apartment during my first year of teaching. That was the year I bought and cooked my first turkey.

We couldn’t make it home for the Thanksgiving holiday. My husband worked six days a week and could not get time off. We were far from family, but I decided to invite another couple in our apartment complex for dinner. They, too, were young marrieds and couldn’t travel home.

Invincible ignorance was my forte. I bought a turkey and had a cookbook. How hard could it be? There were consulting calls to my mother, and she told me about soaking the frozen bird in water to help it defrost. I had an ambitious menu and lots of what used to be called moxie. I thought I could tackle anything Betty Crocker could do. She was the lady pictured on the book propped up in my tiny kitchen.

Apple pie was our favorite dessert. It  would also be my first homemade pastry. Peeling the apples and making the crust were quite a challenge. I don’t think there were ready-made Pillsbury crusts back then. More calls were made to Mom because the dough kept crumbling and didn’t roll out properly. After several tries and much flour over the floor, I finally got it in the pie plate.

I began to perspire in my galley kitchen. The heat of the stove made it feel like a sweat shop. I wondered if the pie should go in with the turkey. Another call was made to Mom, who told me to put the pie in the oven first. Dinner was not until later. She told me I had plenty of time.

I started on the stuffing, or filling as they called it in Philadelphia. Massive amounts of celery and onions were called for and I started chopping. I didn’t have a large bowl, so I used two smaller ones. Vegetables were flying all over the kitchen and the pungent onions made me cry. The recipe called for chicken broth, which I didn’t have. Would the stores be open? Another call was made home. My mother told me I could make broth. “Take the neck and gizzards out of the bird and cook them with celery and onions,” she directed.

Do you know how hard it is to get the innards of the turkey out when it is half frozen? I found out I was very squeamish, but I did manage to yank out a bag filled with mysterious parts. I threw them in a pot of boiling water and started chopping more vegetables. My mother called carrots, onions and celery the “holy trinity.” My tiny kitchen started to smell heavenly, but it was extremely hot, like the fires of hell. With the broth simmering and the pie baking, I began to feel like Julia Child. 

With the cooking in control, it was time to set my dining table. The beige tablecloth set with autumnal-colored napkins looked lovely. This part was fun for me. I was an elementary school teacher and had an advanced degree in making things with construction paper. I made four leaf-shaped place cards and set them atop my ivory wedding china. I’m certain Martha Stewart would have approved.

Back to the kitchen I went to check the pie. It turned out well, maybe a little flat. I hadn’t realized the apples would shrink. It looked like a homemade creation with a slightly burnt crust. I figured with my candlelight dinner no one would notice. Things were going along well. It was time to put in the turkey. I packed all the stuffing in the bird’s cavity and smeared butter and spices on the  breast. It was then I noticed a little, green spot and dialed Mom again. “Don’t worry,” she said. “That’s probably where it was stamped USDA choice.”

After peeling potatoes, I made a soupy version of my mother’s wonderful mashed spuds. I told myself they would stiffen up when I reheated them and went on to assemble the green bean casserole. Time was going fast. I had just an hour until our guests were due to arrive. I was happy when my husband came home and complimented me on the Thanksgiving table. I was proud that everything was going swimmingly. The turkey was almost done and I felt like Suzy Homemaker.

Dinner looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. I carried out the turkey on my brand-new Thanksgiving platter. Our guests were impressed with my prowess in the kitchen. My husband made the first tentative slice, admitting he had never ever carved anything before. I heard a  sharp intake of his breath and then he began to laugh. The breast of the turkey was green. Pale, nauseating green! We looked at each other in shock.

The turkey was inedible, as was the stuffing inside. I later found out, after calling my mother again, that the gall bladder had burst. I didn’t even know it was in there. After some tears on my part, I recovered and laughed along with everyone. The bird was put in the trash and we dined on mashed potatoes, rolls, green beans and apple pie. That first bird was my one and only green one. After all these years, I’m grateful history has not repeated itself.

Kathleen Donnelly lives in Beach Haven Terrace.


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