25 November 2010

Family Traditions: Mr. Turkey Day

Tracing the Tribe wishes its readers a wonderful holiday with friends and family.

We hope you take this opportunity to talk about family history and to preserve holiday traditions.

Our family's Thanksgiving Day tradition is to retell The Story of Mr. Turkey.

When we lived in Iran long ago, we made a real effort to celebrate our favorite - well, my favorite - holidays.

The first year there, I decided to do a proper Thanksgiving.

It wasn't as easy as it seems. Turkeys there were rarely sold whole, even harder was trying to get a kosher one. Cranberry sauce? Libby's Pumpkin Puree? Miracle Whip for leftover sandwiches? Those were all black-market items, found only in a handful of specialized shops.

We invited a bunch of our friends, mostly Americans married to Persians, and I set off on my quest.

Actually, the accompaniments (cranberry, pumpkin puree and Miracle Whip) were relatively easy as there was a very large US contingent in Teheran in those days, with a steady demand for such items.

Number one was Mr. Turkey. I visited a supermarket where we knew the owner and asked him to get me a whole, kosher-slaughtered turkey, cleaned and ready for the oven, and it had to be at my house on Wednesday morning.

It didn't come in the morning, or the afternoon or the evening, despite repeated calls and promises from the other end. Early Thursday morning, the doorbell rang and a large brown-paper wrapped parcel was thrust into my eager hands.

As I took it from the deliveryman, it did feel somewhat warm, which set off a vague alarm. I placed it on the kitchen counter and started to unwrap it. The first piece out was the neck with head - and eyes - attached to the body, which was still feathered. The turkey was intact inside and out - everything but the gobble - and I stood there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

My husband heard the commotion, came in and started laughing. He called my mother-in-law who agreed to send over her housekeeper/cook to clean up the bird. They were both laughing hysterically on the phone during this conversation. The woman arrived and efficiently cleaned Mr. Turkey inside and out and cut off the parts I didn't want to see. Most disturbing were its eyes. I think I can understand why there are vegetarians!

Need I remind anyone that where I came from - New York City - turkeys came cleaned in plastic bags and ready for the ovens. I don't think even my grandmother had to defeather a turkey. How was I supposed to know what to do?

Mr. Turkey was soon ready to be stuffed, roasted and basted to a golden brown. Our guests said it was delicious.

But each year we act out the story of Mr. Turkey.

Of course, we don't mention my first attempt - many years earlier - at duckling a l'orange, where a perfectly cooked and delicious bird held a surprise in its tummy - the plastic bag containing the giblets. THAT was embarrassing.

Oh well, no one is perfect.

Enjoy your feast with family and friends!

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