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The Turkey Blows The Coop

McLean resident remembers her Thanksgiving turkey exploding in the oven.

Every year around Thanksgiving, the razzing starts. It used to be just our children reminiscing and joking about the good old days. But now it’s even the grandchildren who weren’t even around then, for goodness sakes! Well, enough is enough. It’s time to set the record straight. Once and for all.

To begin with, it wasn’t completely my fault. Not one hundred percent, anyway. Really, I’m a pretty good cook—not gourmet quality, you understand, but not too shabby either. And I have had my share of culinary successes, thank you very much.

And, mind you, I was no novice when it came to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, either. But this one was going to be special because my in-laws were coming all the way from upper New York State, and everything had to be perfect. No fooling around this time. No Siree.

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Ann Emmons Petri remembers the Thanksgiving that her turkey exploded in the oven.

Fortunately we were within walking distance of the grocery store which was a very good thing, because with four children, no car during the day, and no freezer space in the kitchen’s tiny refrigerator, I usually needed to shop every day, bringing home just what I could fit in the back of the trusty old stroller.

At the market, right from the get-go, I had my eye on one of those new-fangled frozen pre-stuffed turkeys everyone was talking about. (This was a while ago, you understand. It only seems like yesterday.) All you had to do, the ad said, was pop the still-frozen bird in the oven. How hard could that be anyway? With all the time I’d save, there’d be homemade cranberry sauce, two kinds of pie (apple and pumpkin), yeast rolls, and who knows what other glorious things?

And to make it all possible, the butcher, when he overheard me say I had no freezer space at home, offered to keep the turkey in his freezer at the store until the day before Thanksgiving! I was hooked! The line and sinker came later!

The evening before the big day, I went to retrieve the bird. Uh-oh. You guessed it. Trouble in River City. The turkey was some kind of squishy! The grocer had made a mistake and put it in his refrigerator instead of the freezer.

“But not to worry,” he said reassuringly. “The turkey hasn’t thawed all the way. See? There are still ice crystals inside.”

So the next morning, I put the bird in an open roasting pan in the oven and hoped for the best. Really, how bad could it get? But you know already, don’t you?

After about an hour the delicious aroma of Thanksgiving turkey began to fill the house and put us all in a festive, holiday mood. My mother-in-law was making her traditional sweet potato casserole with the miniature marshmallows on the top while I was chopping cranberries and orange peel. We were having a high old time visiting back and forth across the chipped old white enamel kitchen tabletop. We both agreed this Come-as-You-Are-Bird was the thing of the future.

The appointed hour approached. The table was set with real napkins, a cornucopia centerpiece, and little frilly candy baskets for the children. The relish, green olives and stuffed celery were all in place, and the bone-handled carving set lay gleaming on the white damask tablecloth.

A peek in the oven revealed that the bird was deliciously brown and shiny. I had never seen a more perfectly cooked turkey. All was in readiness! I began to think maybe I was destined for Broadway after all.

Finally, it was time to make the gravy. As I approached the stove, a low, ominous rumbling began and then stopped. Had I imagined it? No. There it was again, but this time it rose to a muffled but house-shaking swoosh, boom, bang, followed by an equally horrifying silence.

The stuffing had swelled and swelled until that poor old turkey had burst wide open. Big time. Talk about Stalactite City!

The effect was amazing. Slivers of turkey were hanging down from the roof of the oven. Their thin shimmering threads cast a surreal glow over the heap of turkey bones still rearranging themselves in the bottom of the roasting pan. It looked more like a surrey with the fringe on the top than a Thanksgiving dinner. Stuffing was everywhere and smoke was beginning to rise in sizzling little curlicues from the heating element on the bottom of the oven.

Ever resourceful, I carefully plucked white meat off the roof of the oven, dark meat off the side walls, and congealed stuffing off of everyplace else, and arranged it all artfully and elegantly on my best turkey platter. And even though I fished globs and globs of stuffing out of the pan juices, the gravy still had to be thinned, not thickened. How’s that for a switch?

After everyone had had a good laugh (the children were beside themselves) and the meal was finally over, my very tactful mother-in-law remarked that the turkey had still tasted very good. In fact the whole meal was delicious, she said.

“Yeah,” laughed Lisa, our three-and-a-half year old. “But you should be here when we have leftover leftovers.”