From a stubborn oven door to a bird in free fall, turkey disasters plague our Thanksgiving memories
THIS BEING the eve of Thanksgiving, kitchen stress is likely mounting, especially if you are in charge of the big bird this year. You could probably use a good laugh.
You've come to the right place.
A little production mishap with a big turkey can turn into a disaster of mythic proportions on Thanksgiving. Lots of people are watching, after all. And they're hungry.
Stories like this become family legend and we've been collecting them from readers in our Turkey Trouble write-in contest.
First place, for a story that made us laugh out loud, goes to Michelle Smith, a biology teacher in the Oahu community colleges, who wins $100 in gift certificates to Times Supermarkets.
The scene is the Miliefsky family home in Massachusetts, about six years ago. Smith's father, Arnold Miliefsky, is the traditional Thanksgiving cook. He starts at 6 a.m. and does everything. "It's the only meal he ever does."
OK, so far so good. A man doing all the work.
But this year, the family had a new oven and Miliefsky wasn't familiar with all the bells and whistles. It was when he went to baste the turkey that a small problem was discovered.
The door wouldn't open.
He had set the oven to self-clean, rather than bake.
Now, for those unfamiliar with higher oven science, self-clean means the oven heats up to a bazillion degrees in order to burn off all the stuck-on gunk in the oven. For safety's sake, the oven door locks until the cycle is complete, so that no one opens the door by accident and burns off their nose.
The cartoon on the cover is an exaggeration of what happened. The turkey didn't actually catch fire. But it does reflect the panic that ensued.
They unplugged the oven. They called the manufacturer (no answer). "We were looking for the hinges, trying to undo it." But the oven, even without power and the temperature falling, would not unlock until the five-hour cycle ran out.
"And then -- ding! -- it opened."
The turkey emerged. "Black on top and raw inside. At least Domino's delivered."
Small kitchen, big bird
Runner-up prize of a new cookbook, "Katie Brown's Weekends," goes to Constance Oliva of Kailua, for her tale of a New York City Thanksgiving.
She had ordered a complete meal from Cristedes Food Emporium and it was delivered the day before the holiday, with the marinated turkey in a pan ready for the oven.
But once she got the stuffing, rice, potatoes, veggies and pies in the refrigerator, the turkey wouldn't fit. "Ever resourceful and savvy to the ways of the big city, I put the bird in a canvas bag, tied it with a rope and hung it out the window of our fourth-floor apartment."
It was plenty cold enough, in fact so cold that when she opened the window the next day, "the rope snapped, and bag and bird plummeted down into the alley behind our apartment." Crash.
No injuries, though, and she cooked the turkey anyway. "Maybe because of the pounding that bird took, it was the tenderest turkey we ever ate."
More turkey tales
Timing is everything:
"Years ago, I worked for a 24-hour telephone information and referral hot line," Judith Clark wrote. One year a volunteer took a call from someone asking how long to cook a turkey. "Since the volunteer was not an experienced cook, he said, 'Just a minute,' and turned to me, intending to ask for cooking instructions. Before he could say anything, the caller said, 'Thank you very much,' and hung up. We always wondered how that turkey turned out."
It's alive!: Fifty years ago, Muriel B. Seto prepared a lovely dinner for her husband's Air Force colleagues. But when she opened the oven to give the turkey a final basting, "I pulled on the rusty oven rack -- alas, too hard!" The pan flew off the rack, the turkey dropped to the floor and slid all the way into the living room, where the guests were waiting. "Kill it! It's alive!" one man shouted. They all helped return to the bird to the pan, saying "the oven will sterilize it." Dinner was saved. "No, I have never lived it down."
It's called "thawing": Daryl Whitford was well on his way to dinner for 20. The turkey was roasting, covered with foil to keep it juicy. "We opened the oven to remove the foil so it could brown ... and our turkey was as hard as rock. We didn't know you had to thaw the turkey. We ended up eating enchiladas from my friends' freezer for our lunch."
Too early for a martini: As chef at a French bistro, John Werrill offered precooked turkey dinners one year and collected 14 orders. He loaded up his car and started delivery. At the first stop, he was offered a triple martini. "Allow me to stress, I do not usually drink alcohol. ... At around 1 a.m. I awoke, still there." Only four people accepted their turkeys the day after Thanksgiving.
Lovely to look at ...: Christine Kaneshiro's first turkey, roasted with a friend's help, emerged beautifully from the oven. They served, ate and were quite proud. Then her brother-in-law arrived and said, "Oh, you made prime rib?" They went to see what he was talking about. "Staring at us was our masterpiece -- the bottom half beet-red, raw, with blood now filling the pan. ... We couldn't figure out how the top half of the turkey was so wonderful and the bottom half completely uncooked."
Menu planning 101: In assembling her first Thanksgiving dinner for 20 relatives, newlywed Darlene Hughes decided a potluck was the best approach. "As hostess, I concentrated on my best turkey-baking effort. As party-planner, I let everyone choose their own specialties to bring. As a rookie, I failed to ask anyone what they'd be bringing." Result: One turkey, 20 desserts. "Dinner would have been a total disaster had it not been for the sugar high that resulted!"
Cleaning lesson 101: Dan Carpenter thought he could keep his turkey in the freezer of the empty new house next door, only to learn late one night that the new owner had returned -- to find the power had been off for several days and something was stinking up the place. Carpenter was forced to confess. "The turkey I had stored in his freezer had not only thawed out, but dripped and rotted through the rest of his refrigerator. ... Forensic refrigerator cleaning is very nasty. I spent days with dish soap and toothbrush. I tried vinegar. It still stunk. Vanilla did the trick."