Did you know that you can learn a lot from a turkey? It’s true. Turkeys are, after all, so very different from people and yet so very much the same. This afternoon, shortly after lunch, B and I set out to see what we could learn with the help of one of my favourite cookbooks, Commonsense Kitchen: 600 Recipes Plus Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Life, and an 11 pound turkey.
It was supposed to be a cooking lesson. A new recipe for roast turkey that involved stuffing the bird with apples rolled in salt and pepper and rosemary. I’ve had my eye on that recipe for a while and with fresh young turkeys on sale a while back, I promptly bought two, stuck one in the freezer, and cooked up the other… completely forgetting to try the new recipe and not make the usual bread-based stuffing in all its variations that we usually do. This weekend, with the second turkey waiting oh-so-patiently in the freezer, I knew just what I had to do.
I had to teach my kids how to cook a turkey.
As any plan is wont to do when you have your heart set on it, this one went awry right from the beginning. K, usually an eager cook, had no desire to join me in the kitchen. But that’s not where the plan went most sideways on me.
B was keen enough to help, but she wanted to bake muffins, not make a turkey. I quickly talked her into baking one large and several small cheesecakes instead, and so we did.
But that’s not where the plan went most sideways on me either.
With the cheesecakes baking in the oven, it was time to tackle the turkey. We plopped it in the sink to unwrap it and take the giblets and neck out, and that is where everything took a left turn from “cooking lesson” aaalllllllll the way over into anatomy and physiology. You might want to stop reading right about now if you are prone to squeamishness.
“I remember what’s in the bag! There’s stuff in the bag! Like guts, right? The liver and kidneys and stuff?” my happy little girl asked, eyes sparkling with the joy of knowing.
Out came the liver and kidneys and heart, slippery and slimy, dark reddish in colour and oh so fascinating when you consider that it is merely a smaller version of what you, yourself have inside of you. They were examined closely, turned this way and that, and we talked at length about the different roles your organs play inside your body.
Next up was the neck with its long strips of muscle surrounding numerous vertebrae. We had to pull off one of the vertebrae to better examine it, of course. And then we had to look and see where the channels might be for the blood vessels and arteries, and lo and behold we found the spinal cord right where it was supposed to be, and so we examined that, too.
This Mama tried to steer us back towards the job at hand — getting a turkey in the oven on time for dinner with friends this evening. We rinsed the turkey and rubbed the skin with apple cider vinegar and a combination of spices. And noticed the little holes in the skin where the feathers were attached. And noticed how stretchy the skin is, and how it is attached to a layer of fat which is attached to the muscle underneath, and just that fast we were back into our discussion of anatomy while the poor bird lay waiting… and waiting… and waiting…
By now I had figured out that there was no way we were going to get through the rest of the job without discussing every other possible thing we could see, so we tipped the turkey up and examined the insides where we had a clear view of the rib cage and the spine. That done, we were finally on our way to filling the bird with spiced apples and getting it in the roasting pan.
It was fun, in an odd way, to have such a hands-on anatomy lesson with a curious little girl. She wasn’t squeamish at all after the initial moment of “Eww, slimy!” and she eagerly explored internal organs and skeletal structure and musculature with her fingers as we worked and chatted. We traced the path the ribs took. We felt the bumpy knobs of the vertebrae. We talked about how we had, in effect, only half a leg and the funny knobby bone at the end was where the kneecap goes in humans. I had figured she might balk at some point. Holding the heart, maybe. Or the liver. But no, not my girl. Fascinated by everything she saw and full of questions.
When we finally got the bird in the pan, I realized that I had forgotten to tuck back the wings, so I quickly twisted the tips around to tuck them under the back where they wouldn’t burn.
“Mom! That’s the wing, isn’t it?”
(To get the full effect, just imagine an outraged 9 year old in a ladybug-spotted apron pointing at the pan with one finger while holding the other arm tight to her chest.)
“And you just… bent it backwards?”
She bent her own arm into an awkward pose behind her back to illustrate what she was thinking and all I could do was answer “Yes, yes I did.”
“Ewwww! That’s so gross!” she cried, and just that fast she couldn’t get out of the kitchen fast enough.
Holding its guts in her hand? No problem. Rubbing spices into its skin? Easy peasy. Separating vertebrae from the neck and examining them an inch from your nose? Too cool.
But gently tucking the wings behind the back?
Dinner tonight should be interesting.