It’s September, which means the Days of Awe are nearly here, and Thanksgiving (for Canadians, at least) is just around the corner. Which means I am spending time–more time than I ought, with a doctoral thesis still slouching towards completion–contemplating my mother’s Thanksgiving turkey recipe.
I should start by noting that the household I grew up in hovered somewhere between ‘religiously diverse’ and ‘agnostic’. I became a (relatively) observant Jew as an adult; most importantly–for the purposes of this post–I started to eat kosher-style. Not completely, 100%, everything-must-have-a-hescher Kosher, you understand, but I don’t eat land animals that don’t have cloven hooves and chew the cud; I don’t eat things that come out of the water and don’t possess both fins and scales; I don’t eat dairy and meat mixed together, or dairy less than three hours after meat. This is not exactly normal for progressive/reform Judaism, but it is religiously important to me, for reasons that probably deserve a full post of their own sometime.
So, my mother’s Thanksgiving turkey. She got the recipe from a magazine feature on French Canadian holiday meals back in the early 1980s; it’s been the turkey recipe as far back as I can remember. The turkey *is* Thanksgiving (well, that and the carrot soup she got out of the same magazine, which I stopped eating because it’s a bacon base, and she stopped making because it turns out I’m the only one who ever liked it); Thanksgiving is the magical day on which The Turkey is made and eaten. And now, as an expat, in a country that has no Thanksgiving, it’s an especially potent bit of nostalgia. The Turkey is home and warmth and family and fireflies and candlelight and a fuzzy blanket.
It’s also made with butter. Lots of butter. And heavy cream. I mean, it could be less kosher, if I put oysters in the stuffing and wrapped it in bacon, but not by much.
Last year, there wasn’t time for major Thanksgiving preparations (funny how that happens when it isn’t a public holiday), so Mark and I had a hasty (but delicious) supper of salmon in a maple-citrus glaze in our kitchen. He’s recently lamented that it didn’t feel much like Thanksgiving, though we both agree that could have more to do with the setting than the food. In years previous, I have, with various degrees of internal debate, made the turkey, and enjoyed it as a nod to all the parts of me that aren’t Jewish. This year, it feels wrong. Or, rather, it feels delicious, and every whiff of garlic I pick up on the breeze as I walk home through the back lane makes me crave that turkey. And not just the turkey on Thanksgiving, but the hot turkey sandwiches, the turkey casserole… I want it bad. And I want it exactly like something that’s bad for me–and that’s more the point, I suppose.
Or is it? I’m not entirely certain I’m comfortable casting the tension between two different-but equally important-aspects of my identity as an instance of yetzer harah versus yetzer tov. They’re both part of me, part of where I come from and part of the life I’ve built for myself. To try to shrug that off or bury it would be not only dishonest but, I suspect, profoundly damaging.
In the introduction to Standing Again at Sinai, Judith Plaskow recalls a parable told by ‘a prominent left-wing Orthodox rabbi’ about the Bialystok Ghetto uprising, in which the women of the Ghetto eventually aid the uprising by turning over smuggled weapons to the men, ‘because as Jews first and women second, they realized they needed to remain in solidarity with their men.’ The question implicit in the tale, according to Plaskow, was ‘Are you a feminist or are you a Jew?’
Plaskow correctly identifies this as a false dichotomy, and goes on to write into existence a space in which it is not only possible, but necessary, to be both a feminist and a Jew, to be a Jewish feminist. And I have benefitted from being able to come of age within that space. But mixed cultural identity is quickly becoming to my generation what gender and sexuality was to hers; we–I–need to learn her lessons and apply them to our own situation before we tear ourselves apart. What can I say? Some people’s identity crises involve gun smuggling, some involve turkey.
I haven’t decided yet what to cook this year–turkey, or fish, or something delicious and vegetarian. I don’t know whether I will have all day to cook, or whether I will eat in haste before rushing off to teach, whether there will be a roomful of people or just the two of us–all of these factors could influence the decision. I’ve still got about a month to think about it, and that month involves a lot of prayer and fasting and reflection. I don’t know yet whether I will spend Yom Kippur resolving to be more stringent about kashrut, or more zealous about carving out a space in which it is not only possible, but necessary, to be all of myself.
 OK, I have been known to be sloppy about that one when dining out–it’s not an issue in my own kitchen, which is (normally) dairy/pareve only.
Click through for the turkey recipe.
My Mother’s Thanksgiving Turkey:
- Turkey (w/ giblets)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 2 c. coarse stale breadcrumbs
- 2 tbs. Cognac
- 5 c. water
- 1 whole medium onion
- 1 rib celery, cut in half
- 3 sprigs parsley, plus additional for garnish
- 4 whole peppercorns
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 2 tbs all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 325.
Remove giblets from turkey, setting aside all but liver for sauce. Wipe turkey with dampened cloth, then rub well, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Stuff cavity with dressing. Truss turkey; place on rack in roasting pan.
Mince 2 of the garlic cloves; mash to a paste in a medium bowl with back of a wooden spoon. Beat in the softened butter and breadcrumbs with wooden spoon until well mixed; slowly beat in cognac. Spread butter-crumb mixture over top of turkey, covering turkey as well as possible.
Roast turkey for 30 minutes. Pour 1 c. of the water into pan around turkey; continue to roast, basting every 1/2 hour, until juices run yellow when turkey is pricked with a fork or instant-reading thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh reads 170 to 175 farenheit; 4 to 4 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, combine reserved giblets, remaining 4 cups of water, the onion, celery, remaining 1 clove garlic, 3 sprigs parsley, 1/4 tablespoon salt, and peppercorns in a large heavy saucepan; heat over medium-high heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium, simmer briskly until liquid is reduced to 2 cups, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat; strain into heatproof bowl. Check turkey periodically; if water in bottom of roasting pan has cooked away, replenish as necessary with broth.
When turkey is done, transfer to carving board; let stand 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour; cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add pan juices and any remaining broth: cook, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook 3 minutes longer. Do not allow sauce to boil.