Thanksgiving blogging, part I: "this depends intirely on the goodness of your fire."

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!

21 thoughts on “Thanksgiving blogging, part I: "this depends intirely on the goodness of your fire."

  1. Interesting Development and I are attending dinner at the home of a colleague. Since we’re both vegetarians, I’m making a lasagnae-shaped thing that has butternut squash/sage/hazelnut filling in place of the traditional meat or veggies, and bechamel instead of red sauce. You gain about five pounds just looking at it, but it’s so totally worth it.


  2. ooo. We’re going to my brother’s down in LA; I’m bringing my Pumpkin, Peanut Butter & Sweet potato soup which is rich, delicious, and can be vegetarian; and I’m making a pumpkin pie and apple crisp for dessert. If inspired, I’ll bake some bread.

    Meanwhile, for times approximating Carter’s, look at
    roast turkey in 45 minutes sounds good to me. . . (sorry I don’t know how to get the hyperlink in properly.)

    Eat well. But that goes without saying…


  3. I refuse to travel at Thanksgiving, and thus I do the whole shebang every year, whether for my parents, friends, whatever. It changes year to year.

    Anyway, I’m making pretty much the usual things, but here are the highlights of actual interesting food that I make at Thanksgiving:

    Sweet Potato Gratin w/ jarlsberg and sage. A nice savory way of doing sweet potatoes that is less desserty than the typical brown sugar/pecan preparations.

    Mashed rutabaga. With butter. And cream. Nothing fancy, but one of my favorite things in the whole world.

    And this year, I’m trying a new recipe for brussel sprouts, which I have hated historically and which I’ve always refused to have at my thanksgiving table, but now I’m sick of hearing that if they’re cooked properly they’re wonderful, so I’m taking them on. The recipe roasts them, and you toss them in olive oil, roasted walnuts, and pecorino romano shavings. I feel like if it is at all possible for me to like a brussel sprout, this recipe will be the ticket to that. We shall see.


  4. Wow–you all have such great ideas! I want that veggie lasagna with squash and hazelnuts, and the pumpkin, peanut butter, sweet potato soup recipe too. Yum. I think those brussel sprouts sound great, Dr. Crazy–although I like the classic preparation of steaming them and then tossing them in a pan with lots of butter and roasted chestnuts. If I were feeling more ambitious, I’d try the sweet potato gratin–but I’m asking my friends to bring most of the sides!

    I’m doing the turkey, dressing, mashed veg., and pies. My one innovation this year will be mashed turnips instead of mashed potatoes. It’s a French Canadian thing–I had them in Quebec recently, underneath what was translated as a “deer chop,” and they were truly delicious. If that doesn’t work out, mashed celeriac (celery root) is great, too. I just may try the rutabaga idea one of these days, too.


  5. Historiann – are you sure that what you ate in Canada wasn’t actually rutabaga, and not turnips? I ask because my grandmother always referred to the rutabaga at Thanksgiving as “turnips” and when I’ve done mashed turnips, they’re not quite starchy enough to really mash properly. Now, you were in Quebec, and it doesn’t make sense that the French would have the same misnaming as my Irish grandmother, but if it’s an Irish/English misnaming thing, and since Canada still recognizes the queen… Anyway, you see my point 🙂


  6. No, really. Come on over to Transaltoonia. Your fame will already have partly preceeded you to that table, and some good fun is planned along with the food. I’m only a table contributor on this particular run, and am looking to make something pear-based, as is my usual wont.

    I actually came across another early American cookbook last night while browsing on some bibliographic source, and it seems that I forgot to note down the particulars. Perhaps I can retrace my steps through the vale of electronic cookies and other placeholders.


  7. Clearly we need a recipe exchange. . . I want Notorious’ lasagna & Dr. Crazy’s sweet potato gratin. (My great revelation was that I liked sweet potatoes when they did not have marshmallows on top.)
    I always do brussel sprouts steamed and tossed with butter & caraway seeds. But the walnuts, olive oil & pecorino sounds delicious too.
    I actually think that the point of Thanksgiving is the side dishes, which are much more interesting than the turkey.


  8. Don’t diss the turkey, Susan! The turkey can be wonderful! It’s just that most people overcook the turkey so it’s totally dry and tasteless, but when you have actual good thanksgiving turkey? It is AMAZING.

    In my experience, the following tricks make for delicious turkey.

    1) Only open the oven once per hour in order to baste! Never more! Set the oven timer! Otherwise, keep the oven closed and the heat consistent.

    2) Even though it is a bad idea to actually stuff the turkey, you’ve got to shove some stuff inside of their for flavoring/and making it juicy. My personal preference is to jam some celery and onion in the main cavity, and a baking apple in the neck (and some in the cavity if it’s too big to all fit in the neck. This gives a yummy and yet not overpowering apple-y flavor throughout. You can also stick herbs in there, but I’m a pretty non-adventurous turkey person. I want the turkey to taste like turkey – not like a bunch of herbs.

    3) Don’t rely on the thermometer in the turkey, if there is one. Use an instant-read thermometer, and take the turkey out when the temperature is 165 (with the thermometer jammed in mid-thigh). Remember: the turkey keeps cooking once it’s out of the oven, and so you should wait like a half-hour or so before carving to let the juices redistribute. This also gives time for heating up all oven-oriented side-dishes.

    If it gives you any idea of my love of the turkey, I’m making an 11 lb. turkey this year and it’s just my mom coming to town. I’ve got plans for like three different meals that are coming from that turkey, and I’m actually excited about it 🙂


  9. Dr. Crazy–check out the link that Susan sent above about roasting a turkey for 45 minutes. It’s a green thing to do! I agree that a few veggies and an onion scattered in the pan help the pan juices and will contribute to a delicious gravy. (You don’t have to put them inside the turkey, but that works, too.)

    And, on the root vegetable question: it’s turnips (white with purple tips) in Quebec. I also had a creamy turnip soup flavored with maple syrup a few weeks ago. Turnips have a slightly wetter and pulpier texture and a more vegetal tang than rutabegas, I think, almost reminiscent of horseradish. It’s a good accompaniment to roasted meats, but in this country I think turnips still feel a bit too close to Eastern European poverty (if not pograms) for many immigrant grandchildren to see them as soul food rather than an embarassment. French Canadians have made a whole cuisine out of durable stuff that can stay reasonably fresh through the long winter, or is made from dried foods (mixed boiled root vegetables and cabbage are a frequent side dish; turnips were basically food for pigs; and dried split-pea soup.)


  10. I am intrigued by this 45 minute turkey, but I want somebody else to try it first 🙂

    Re: turnips, I actually cook with them pretty regularly, but I found I prefer them roasted, I think because I expected them to mash up like the rutabaga does because of the whole “Irish people call rutabagas turnips” thing. Actually, this also probably explains my hatred of the brussel sprout, which I’ve detested since that same grandmother told me it was like a “miniature cabbage” and I, when it didn’t actually taste like cabbage, which I enjoyed, promptly decided that brussel sprouts were awful. In other words, apparently I have a PR problem with some foods 🙂


  11. Clearly we need a recipe exchange…

    Hmmm… why don’t we type these up, then cut-and-post first thing Thanksgiving morning? That way, we’ve all posted for the day, and we have something on file for next year?


  12. Out here in Midwestville we are having what I like best. RESERVATIONS! Dinner with our tiny family will be at a hotel restaurant in big T-town. Thinking of you all in Potterville.


  13. Notorious, that sounds great. I’ll post the pie recipes. The dressing I’m going to make sounds strikingly like Mrs. Carter’s first one, although I don’t have to make my own veal sausage first!

    Mother of ALL–congratulations! That’s very sensible of you.

    Clio B., why not margaritas? There is a kind of symmetry with having a frozen drink while waiting for the frozen turkey to thaw…and if it doesn’t, you might not care after a few margaritas!


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