- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

It’s T-minus 96 hours and counting until we get berserk for turkey. Quirky for turkey. Jerky and lurking for turkey, and maybe a little murky too, once it’s all over.

Thanksgiving is just 5,760 minutes from now. That’s 345,600 seconds. Ready?

Come Thursday, some 50 million roasted, broasted, grilled, brined, fried and rotisseried turkeys will appear upon the nation’s tables, this according to the National Turkey Federation.

It also is time to honor one Dorcas Reilly, and perhaps do a swell Dorcas Reilly dance, complete with interpretive dialogue. Don’t know Dorcas Reilly? For shame.

She is the home economist who invented the official Campbell’s Soup Green Bean Casserole in 1955. Think of it. That melange of beans, mushroom soup and fried onions, made by 30 million loyalists every Thanksgiving, is five decades old. Earlier this year, Campbell’s threw an anniversary party in a chichi Manhattan eatery to honor Mrs. Reilly, 79.

“It was like meeting John Lennon,” rhapsodized one star-struck restaurateur.

And what with the turkey, the casserole and other harvest dainties about to orbit the table, all of us here at the Gravy Boat Complaint Desk applaud those cooks who have a 22-pound, oven-ready pterodactyl on order at the grocery store.

It’s all part of history.

For some perspective, we will journey to an earlier Thanksgiving culinary experience — back to the pre-Butterballian era, affixed to the apron strings of Fannie Farmer, author of the “Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” of 1904.

Her sobering instructions for preparing the Thanksgiving bird in a wood-burning stove:

“Cut off the head and draw out the pin feathers using a small pointed knife. … By introducing two fingers under the skin close to the neck, the windpipe may be easily found and withdrawn.”

The windpipe. The windpipe?

Yes, of course. It must be that thing over by the pop-up thermometer. Uh-huh.

Miss Farmer’s menu for the ideal New England Thanksgiving Dinner included almonds; celery; oyster soup; the exquisitely de-windpiped turkey; chestnut dressing; cream; turnips; giblet gravy; chicken pie; mince, apple and squash pies; vanilla ice cream; “fancy” cakes; fruits; nuts; cheese; and something called Thanksgiving Pudding with Sterling Sauce.

Page 402 of the venerable cookbook reveals that said pudding consists of scalded milk, rolled crackers, raisins, butter and eggs; the sauce includes butter, brown sugar, cream and wine.

In these times, Miss Farmer surely would warrant her own hot line for such intimidating fare. After all, there are nine Thanksgiving hot lines in operation, devoted to those cowed by turkey or made cranky by cranberries.

Why, look at the Butterball Turkey Hot-Line, where 50 counselors have fielded more than 2 million calls in the past 25 years. It is the stuff of legend.

There was the distraught Kentucky woman, for instance, who called to say her Chihuahua was stuck inside the uncooked bird. How the dog arrived there was not made clear, but he eventually escaped.

Then there was the hostess who scrubbed her turkey with bleach, and another who used steel wool. Neither bird made it to the table.

Such misunderstandings arise from feelings of turkey inadequacy. The counselors theorize that people set high standards for themselves at holiday time, hoping to live up to Great-Aunt Madge’s incredible, marvelous, legendary turkey-to-end-all-turkeys feasts of yore.

Folly, say the folks at Boston Market. The chain restaurant has calculated it takes 24 hours to produce a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner and offers a Madge-scale takeout turkey banquet for about $75.

“Don’t feel obligated to do something just because your grandmother did. It’s nonsense to think you have to bake four pies from scratch just because that’s how your family has always done it,” says Jennifer Louden, the company’s “lifestyle coach.”

She adds, “Spend the holidays doing what you enjoy, and if that’s baking, do it. If not, give yourself permission to say no.”

Then again, one could always indulge in a Mayflower martini, a new concoction dreamed up by Absolut Spirits that has something to do with gin, apricot brandy and apple juice.

If all else fails, at least quiz one another about the turkey itself. Like the caruncle, for instance — the red, fleshy thing on the turkey’s head. The turkey’s snood is the hunk that hangs upon the beak. Oh, and the pendant wattle. Well, that’s below the snood.

Male turkeys gobble; females click. In Germany, turkeys are thought to “poot.” Germans, in fact, call turkeys “pooters.”

The largest turkey that ever lived weighed 86 pounds, the fastest flew at 55 mph. The species has been around 10 million years, is related to pheasants and can, on occasion, be subject to heart attacks and depression.

Heart attacks and depression notwithstanding, Miss Louden, the lifestyle coach, also advises one and all simply to seize the day on Thanksgiving.

“Put off washing the dishes and go for a walk,” she says. We concur.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and depressed turkeys for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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