Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Feast Cooked Victorian-style



By Elaine Meinel Supkis

My family has celebrated the end of harvest and beginning of the harsh New England winter since the mid 1600's, The Hudson Valley was rich with hunting, unlike in Europe, anyone could hunt deer and eat venison, without a patent from the Crown, there were wild turkeys and of course, all that wonderful food the natives had tamed and cultivated like potatoes and squash, corn and various beans.

We owe everything we have today to the natives. So today, we should remember who brought the first baskets of bounty in the New World, who saved us when we invaded, generously sharing their skills and knowledge. Thank you. Wish we were nicer about it all.

My husband and son and I plus assorted friends over the years, lived for ten years in a tent complex we built on the side of a mountain. I prepared all our meals and tended the home fires, literally, as if I were a Victorian woman, we even had to carry our water by hand or make it out of snow.

Now we live in a very modern house but I still heat it Victorian style and I love my woodstove for baking and so today, everyone in my clan are coming over to eat a Victorian style turkey dinner.

I got up as usual at 4:30 am to start the cookstove. It involves chopping firewood to really slender girth, matting up paper and some cardboard and throwing a match at the whole thing. Boof! The fire comes to life.

Gradually, it heats up the big cast iron beast. I watch both the chimney thermometer to insure no chimney fires and the woodstove' thermometer on the door which was a fine invention back in 1889 when this fine machine was cast in New York, back when we were an industrial base.

Went outside to feed the animals and surprize!

Next week it is going to be super-warm. But today is a Santa-white-Christmas holiday. Ho ho ho.

Sparky was bred to gad about the Alps. He is an old breed of horse. Thick necked and thick headed. Took a while for him to figure out who is boss. Well, don't ask him. He lies. I am the boss. Sort of. When riding him, if you pull on the reins to turn his head, his neck is thick, he can ignore this. Worse, you can turn his head all the way around until he is nibbling at your boots and he will still go straight ahead. So I have to talk him into going places.

Back in the kitchen, it is time to assmble the ingredients for cooking the turkey, it is about 7:30am.

The turkey, of course. 17 pounds. Must cook for at least six hours, the cooking is a tad slower in old fashioned ovens. They get warm but don't have the intense super hot/no heat cycle that modern oven have. Instead, the temperature slowly goes up, hovers there for as long as one feeds the fire and then slowly declines. No cycling. So cooking times are quite different.

I place a grill at the bottom of my biggest mixing bowl. This is round which is nice because the heat in the oven comes mostly from the left side where the grate is. The fire bricks inside the firebox diffuses the heat but it is still significantly warmer on that side so every 15 or 20 minutes or so, I bast the turkey and rotate the bowl. Spin that wheel!

Here are most of the ingredients: celery, portabello mushrooms, yellow onions, Macintosh apples (organic, not computer!), oysters and potatoes. I dowse the turkey with dill vinegar, rub in olive oil and scatter rosemary on top. I then fine chop the celery, half the mushrooms and one onion and sautee.

They cook over the hottest burner of the woodstove. I then chop and cook the oysters seperately.

I mix it altogether with the breadcrumbs, butter and vegetable soup stock to make the stuffing.

Here is mother's helpers, making the stuffing. I cook it all in the big pot on the woodstove. It doesn't burn because the heat is very diffuse.

I then "rape" the turkey, yes, it is pretty much the same in a Freudian way. Stick my arm deep inside and jam the stuffing there. Ick. The turkey is cold. At least it isn't frozen. I cut up the apples and last onion into quarters and grace them about the turkey in the pan. Throw in the rest of the uncut mushrooms and this bakes along with the turkey and is basted with the juices so they form a sweet, succulent sauce. The flavor is awesome and it is so easy to do.

Kneeling on the floor, I tuck the turkey into the oven. Akamaru wonders why bother cooking it? Why not tear it apart and gulp it down now? The poor dog knows we do dumb things to food but she will eat later with gusto.

"No! Please! Don't put it away! I want it now!" She telegraphs to me. Sorry, chibi-maru, in it goes. I don't do raw turkey. Sushi, yes. Turkey, no way.

Here we can see what the oven looks like inside. I have a pizza stone on the bottom since the turkey is too big to sit on a rack. The stone holds heat really well, too. It helps the heat diffusion. Even in my modern oven, I use the stone for everything for the same reason. If you don't have a pizza stone, try to get one. They are wonderful.
Now we wait for several hours, time to clean the house and prepare for the guests!

I hope your are all having a good Thanksgiving, too, today. Will post about the dinner later.

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