It began on one of those sunny but cold, wintry mornings during the week of Christmas in Watsonville many years ago.
Anna, my Yugoslavian mother-in-law, was pouring coffee from the little white chipped enamel pot she had boiled it in when she stated that if I would drive the car, we could go to Kliewer’s turkey ranch and buy our 20-pound Christmas turkey for only 7 cents a pound.
At that time, I was a 19-year-old mother-to-be, having had very little cooking experience with any food that weighed more than 1 pound of hamburger meat. All of my vegetables and meat came from Purity Market on Watsonville’s Main Street. Farmers markets didn’t exist.
When Anna said the turkey was only 7 cents a pound, I was impressed; that was 12 cents less than my hamburger meat and 50 percent better tasting.
Innocently I agreed to be the driver, knowing little of what lay ahead. Even the folded gunny sack in Anna’s hands didn’t offer a clue.
It wasn’t until Mr. Kliewer led us to the long rows of buildings where those 7 cents-a- pound birds were housed that my curiosity piqued.
Still, I remained clueless to the fact that we would be driving home with a live 20 pound turkey in the trunk of my car and only a gunny sack between us.
But drive home we did, that live bird gobbling and scratching the entire way. By the time we arrived, Mr. Tom Turkey had torn a hole in his temporary home, his head was hanging out and he was clawing his way toward freedom.
I was terrorized, but even more so when Anna announced that I was to hold the sack while she wielded the axe.
What happened after that isn’t clear to this day.
Anna told me later, while we were in Purity Market purchasing an already-dead 20-pound turkey, that I had released Mr. Tom just as the ax was on its way down, and the last she saw of that petrified bird was it heading toward freedom.
I myself like to think of Mr. Tom Turkey reiterating his side of the story to the rest of the flock back home at Mr. Kliewer’s turkey ranch.
- Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at email@example.com.
Preparation of fresh or frozen turkey for roasting
If frozen, unwrap the turkey two days ahead of time, rinse well and blot dry. Place on a cookie sheet on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 48 hours or until defrosted.
The day of cooking, bring the turkey to room temperature and preheat oven to 450.
Stuff the cavity with 3 to 4 cups of quartered apples, onions, carrots and celery stalks. Do not add salt or pepper. Then add crumpled aluminum foil to pack the cavity well. This keeps in moisture and prevents the breast from drying out. Believe me, it works exceptionally well. Pat the turkey dry.
In a bowl, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, 3 teaspoons table salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning and 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning. Mix well.
Let sit half an hour, and then rub seasonings over the outside of the turkey.
Roast the turkey on a rack, breast down, until nicely browned — about an hour.
Turn oven down to 350.
Cover the bird loosely with foil and roast until the thermometer reads 160. Remove from oven. Remove foil from the cavity and discard vegetable stuffing and let the turkey rest, lightly covered, on the carving board for half an hour before carving. Resting will allow the juices in the turkey to redistribute back into the meat and not run out during carving.
Cooking time: 16- to 18-pound turkey, about 3 hours; 18 to 22 pounds, about 4 hours
— Colly Gruczelak
Unbelievable Turkey Stock and Gravy. (Can be made 1-2 days ahead).
I buy extra turkey parts from the butcher, about 2 pounds of necks, backs and wings at $2.99 per pound.
Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a roasting pan, combine turkey parts and an onion, two carrots, four garlic cloves and two celery ribs, all roughly chopped. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and mix well. Roast until dark brown, about 50 minutes.
Step 2: Move roasting pan to stovetop. With the burner on medium high, add 3½ cups of chicken stock to the pan while scraping up browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil.
Step 3: Transfer the contents of the roasting pan to a large saucepan. Add 2 cups dry white wine, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon thyme. Simmer for 1½ hours until reduced by half. Strain contents into a large container and refrigerate until cold and fat has congealed on top.
Step 4: To finish gravy, skim all fat from stock and place 5 tablespoons of fat in a large pot. Reserve.
Step 5: In another pot, heat stock to simmering. At this point, add the juices from the pan the turkey was roasting in to the stock.
Step 6: Heat pot with reserved fat until it is bubbling and then whisk in 1/3 cup flour, whisking quickly about 2 minutes. Begin adding stock slowly, one cup at a time, constantly whisking. Cook for 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
— Colly Gruczelak