I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year chez Historiann, so I’ve been flipping through Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772) again. (I just can’t stay away! You remember that she was the source for “an Umble Pie” and–unsuccessfully–for clues about the origins of the Ritz Cracker Mock Apple Pie) I thought she had some interesting recipes to share for that centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, the turkey. First, the general instructions (p. 8):
To Roast a Turkey, Goose, Duck, Fowl, &c.
When you roast a turkey, goose, fowl, or chicken, lay them down to a good fire. Singe them clean with white paper, baste them with butter, and dust on some flour. As to time, a large turkey will take an hour and twenty minutes; a middling one, a full hour; a full-grown goose, if young an hour; a large fowl three quarters of an hour; a middling one half an hour, and a small chicken twenty minutes; but this depends intirely on the goodness of your fire.
I wouldn’t go with those roasting times on Thursday. I have a feeling that wild and domestic fowl were a lot scrawnier than our agribusiness-produced, hormonally-pumped, grain-fed, fully plucked monster turkeys and chickens today. Even the so-called “free range” beasties must be much, much larger than those in Mrs. Carter’s day. Eighty minutes to cook a turkey? But, as she reminds us well, “this depends intirely on the goodness of your fire.” Since your turkey today will likely be in the oven much longer, you can probably skip the flour, which presumably was meant to aid browning.
Before you start your fire, you’ll probably want to consider the stuffing. Mrs. Carter offers two, the first being a kind of veal sausage stuffing (p. 9):
A turkey, when roasted, is generally stuffed in the craw with force-meat; or the following stuffing: Take a pound of veal, as much grated bread, half a pound of suet cut and beat very fine, a little parsley, with a small matter of thyme, or savory, two cloves, half a nutmeg grated, a tea-spoon full of shred lemon peel, a little pepper and salt, and the yolks of two eggs.
That doesn’t sound half bad, although I would cook the sausage (the veal, suet, and spices) before mixing it with the bread, egg yolks, and herbs. With this bird, Mrs. Carter recommends “Good gravy in a dish; and either bread, onion, or oyster sauce in a bason.” The second recommended stuffing features liver and chestnuts (pp. 9-10):
A Fowl, or Turkey, roasted with Chestnuts:
Roast a quarter of a hundred of chestnuts, and peel them; save out eight or ten, the rest bruise in a mortar, with the liver of the fowl, a quarter of a pound of ham well-pounded, sweet herbs and parsley chopped fine: Season it with mace, nutmeg, pepper and salt: Mix all these together, and put them into the belly of your fowl: Spit it, and tie the neck and vent close. For sauce, take the rest of the chestnuts, cut them in pieces, and put them into a strong gravy, with a glass of white wine: Thicken with a piece of butter rolled into flour. Pour the sauce in the dish and garnish with orange and water-cresses.
Modern cooks know that it’s healthier and more efficient to cook your stuffing as a side-dish of “dressing” separately–actually stuffing the bird slows cooking time considerably, not to mention the whole salmonella issue (raw eggs not cooking quite enough inside the cavity of a turkey? No, thanks!) So, this year, please bake the dressing on the side during the last hour or so of turkey roasting, and to get that extra-good and unctuous turkey flavor, spoon some turkey pan juices on the pan of dressing as it bakes. (There’s always plenty of them if you’re basting with butter as Mrs. Carter recommends!)
What are you making for Thanksgiving? (Reservations? May I join you?) Just kidding!
Stay tuned for Thanksgiving blogging, part II: pumpkin pies and Indian puddings!