We often host Thanksgiving but, a few years ago, I broke the bad news to my family: we would no longer be making a turkey on Thanksgiving. Like EVER again. And, so far, skipping the turkey has become our favorite Thanksgiving traditions.
I waited for everyone to throw mashed potatoes at me but, to my surprise, there was a collective sigh in the room. “Oh thank God,” they unanimously chimed. “We haaaate turkey!” And henceforth, no turkeys have been had at our Thanksgiving table.
You see, we, like everyone else across the country, had been struggling with turkeys for several years, spending endless hours perfecting brine recipes (wet or dry? Bag or no bag?) and cooking styles (fried? Spatch-cocked?) only to be disappointed time and time again. Dry and overcooked on the outside and still a little frozen or too pink in the center. I don’t know if the turkey was entirely to blame each year but we’re no dummies. So each year, it was a lot of work with little to no reward.
The kicker was that we were buying GOOD turkeys! None of that Butterball “from the grocery store” peasant crap. Pffft.
No, our turkeys were read bedtime stories before slaughter. They were organic and free-range, pastured and cage-free, they were magical turkeys from special farms that hand-fed them gourmet food, etc., etc.. Read: they were expensive as hell.
I remember the last pasture-raised “gourmet” turkey we roasted and when I pulled the forever-plug on turkeys for Thanksgiving.
About an hour into the roasting process, the kitchen began to have a slight, off-putting smell. I couldn’t put my finger on it at that moment but it was sort of… fishy. I sniffed and sniffed and walked around my house like a bloodhound, trying to discover the culprit. Was it a spoilt sippy cup or a can of lord-knows-what accidentally hidden in a toy bin?
Eventually, it was time to gather at our table and enjoy the feast we had slaved over for days. We passed the potatoes and green beans, roasted veggies and cranberries, and carved the turkey into glorious golden pieces. I took one bite and immediately wretched.
My eyes are watering a little even writing about this experience.
It wasn’t exactly like eating a piece of fish but… well, it was enough. I couldn’t touch it and that night, $125 of turkey was thrown into the garbage. I was officially never cooking a turkey again.
I’m not entirely sure how we figured it out, but my husband later discovered that pastured turkeys at the particular farm we bought from, a great farm where we routinely purchased other meat, were supplemented with a small-batch of feed that contained vitamins and supplements… that could sometimes make the turkey meat taste and smell fishy.
NOT thankful for that.
Now, you don’t have to have a dramatic FISHY TURKEY story to cancel the bird on Thanksgiving. But consider making the holiday your own. Are you just mimicking what everyone else is doing? Have you actually thought about if you like eating or making any of the food you’re serving? If you’re going to spend three days cooking something, might I suggest smoking a brisket or dry aging a tomahawk steak?
The point of Thanksgiving is to spend time with the people you love. To gather and to celebrate gratitude. The food can be important too as long as it’s something you actually enjoy. Serve sushi if that’s what makes you happy or start your own festive meal tradition (honey ham anyone?), the point is that YOU get to choose what is best for you and your family.
Looking back on the holiday in our family, I think we always sort of did our own thing for Thanksgiving. I grew up in a Polish family so Thanksgiving was always a little foreign to us. We never served pie or green beans or sweet potatoes. We had stuffing but it was made without breadcrumbs and there was never any gravy. We served Polish salads and pickled herring. Pierogi and sometimes even lasagna.
We would sit around for hours talking and eating until all the uncles were drunk and everyone had enjoyed thirds. And then out came dessert and we did it again. We never played football and barely paid attention to when someone finally turned it on. We most certainly never ran a turkey trot.
One year, I actually convinced my family to take a walk to the park after dinner. But as our family parade stepped out onto the sidewalk on that brisk afternoon and we started to shuffle like the stuffed turkeys that we actually were in that moment, I immediately regretted the suggestion. And it was never suggested again.
Growing up, our Thanksgiving meals weren’t gourmet meals. Most of the time they were barely even okay meals. But the day was always warm and full of laughter and we always went back for seconds.
If things are a little nutty for you this season because of the age of your kids, order the meal from a restaurant or host it potluck-style with family members bringing the major dishes. Serve take-and-back-pizzas from Costco and snuggle up for a movie marathon. Eat breakfast all day long and work on puzzles and crosswords in your pajamas. Go on a long bike ride (or sledding if you live in the Midwest like me) and warm up with a cocoa bar and hot toddies.