The story of how I cooked my first turkey is a laughable reminder of why homemaking skills are taught and not caught! I distinctly remember sliding the highly anticipated “Thanksgiving bird” into the oven. As the blue-speckled enamel roaster scraped noisily across the metal rack, I announced to my new husband, who had been looking forward to this special meal for some time, that I was going to drape a kitchen towel over the top of the turkey to keep it moist. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (this was long before novice homemakers could become pros overnight from watching YouTube videos), but I figured it would result in the tenderest of turkeys. Well, it did, sort of.
Needless to say, you shouldn’t get excited about using this method for the following reason. As I pulled the “burnt” towel off the roasted turkey, the charred, dry skin adhered to the towel! It wasn’t the result I was trying to achieve. After all, it was my first attempt at making a perfect turkey diner, but something went horribly wrong!
My husband still claims it is the moistest turkey he has ever eaten, but I think he is possibly confusing it with one of the other 36 turkey dinners he’s consumed since we’ve been married (or maybe he’s just being nice). Still, I remember being mortified. Where I got the crazy idea to use a towel in the first place, only heaven knows.
Over the next few years, I experienced many more culinary mishaps. It wasn’t because I disliked cooking, but simply because I hadn’t been trained. Even though my mother was a good cook (she made the best pumpkin pie), she preferred to do everything herself. While we were busy at school getting a “real” education, Mom was at home, holding down the fort. She made the beds, did the laundry, cleaned the house, sewed our clothes, and of course, made dinner–every day, day-in-and day-out for 40 years! I once asked her if I could vacuum her floors when she had been ill. She declined, saying, “Oh, no, that’s okay. There’s a certain way I do them!”
As you can see, my mother was a real character, and I truly miss her, but it wasn’t until I raised children of my own that I realized how very little time I had spent with her in the kitchen. Thus, I endured many years of trial and error in the culinary realm until I finally gained the confidence to call myself a good cook. And maybe that’s why, unlike my mother, I spent countless hours in the kitchen with my children–taking advantage of the teachable moments that seem to pass away all too quickly.
And like everything else in life, I guess you never really arrive. In preparing to write this post, I had to research what may have gone wrong with my first turkey, and in doing so, life has come full circle. As it turns out, there is a technique for achieving a crunchy layer of golden turkey skin, with perfectly moist meat underneath, similar to what I tried on my first Thanksgiving as a new wife. All it takes is a square of cook’s muslin or a piece of layered cheesecloth soaked in three sticks of butter.
That’s right, cook’s muslin or cheesecloth soaked in butter.
First, brush your turkey with softened butter. Then, after seasoning it with salt and pepper and any other spice you want to use, take a piece of cook’s muslin or cheesecloth that has been soaked in three sticks of melted butter and drape it “snugly” over the turkey. Place the turkey in a roasting pan in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and baste it every half hour for two and half hours. Finally, remove the cheesecloth and baste every 15 minutes until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees (I can’t wait to tell my kids how to do it!). Or you can just slather your bird with butter, season it, and let it brown “au natural.” Either way, it is sure to be hit!
My children are all grown now, and occasionally they ask me how I make something, but the truth is, in many ways, they have surpassed me. Some follow recipes, while others create them, but they’re all confident cooks because of the years we’ve spent together, side by side, in the kitchen. For this I am truly thankful.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
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