We are fortunate in having our children and grandchildren within easy driving distance. Every couple of years, we host them all for Thanksgiving dinner. But that gives us a minimum of eighteen people, ranging in age from three to eighty, plus usually a couple of parents or other relatives of some of them. This year the total was twenty-one.
Thanksgiving dinner is important to me, perhaps partly because it was a big deal in my own family when I was growing up, partly because it is an excuse to expend the necessary effort to get everyone together, and partly because it is an excuse to eat and drink far too much.
Fortunately all adult members of our family can and do cook, a couple of them compete at making pies, and all of them bring side dishes, wine, and such things. My wife Marian is responsible for logistics (seating, settings, tableware, etc.) and is the vegetable person and I am the turkey and potato man. I guess I acquired these responsibilities because I really like traditional Thanksgiving dinners, and when I was a graduate student, living with four others and taking turns doing the cooking, I snuck Thanksgiving dinner into the menu often, and have been cooking turkeys ever since, so I have a lot of experience with them. Potatoes, of course, are a snap. But nowadays so are turkeys, if you ignore all of the recipes in the magazines that precede thanksgiving and realize your job is to get the food on the table, hot and tasting good, and don’t follow the rules for gourmet cooking and healthy diet. After all, Thanksgiving comes but once a year
When I was young, people would raise a turkey or two for eating purposes. They would now qualify as free-range and organic, but they tended to be tough, with little if any white meat, and with unpredictable cooking time requirements (they were also, incidentally, incredibly stupid, noisy, and generally unattractive). Dinner was ready when the bird was ready. Over the years, turkeys have been selectively bred to have more meat, be more tender, and have predictable cooking requirements and taste. The ones sold frozen in grocery stores probably live short and terrible lives before they are killed, eat non-organic food, are filled with evil drugs, and so-on. But they are standardized birds, even to their weight and price. And before thanksgiving the prices are unbelievably low.
I like the cheap ones not only because they are cheap, but because they have less flavoring stuff and unknown liquids injected into them. And why do I like frozen ones? Simply because I have had three experiences when the “ fresh “ ones I bought were spoiled, and I spent Thanksgiving morning trying to find a good one.
Cooking Thanksgiving turkeys for our family now requires buying a couple of 25 pound birds (the family eats one, but my wife and I like leftovers), letting them sit for two or three days on the washing machine in our unheated porch to thaw, stuffing them (an unprecedented opportunity to get rid of things such as stale bread, over-the hill apples, non-fresh nuts and so on), putting them in the pan, smearing some oil on them, finding a neighbor that will be out of town (we only, have one oven), putting the birds in the ovens, and waiting for slightly less than the recommended time (recipes involving meat always call for too much cooking these days because providers are afraid of being sued for e-coli or something). It is necessary at some point to remove the giblets and put the yams in the oven. And if you want you can do more chef-like things like basting them and cooking them until the legs feel loose. But otherwise one is free to mingle with the guests, play with the kids, drink wine, relax, and be assured that the turkeys will be done when you want them to be and taste swell.
There are good aspects to industrial farming.