One November ages ago when I lived across the street from Winterport’s Smith School, I conspired with first-grade teacher Sybil Mahoney to solicit from her young charges their recipes for preparing the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.
There was only one ground rule for the exercise: So their youthful originality would not be dampened by advice from the official cook at home, they would tackle the job cold turkey in the classroom, which is to say with no advance warning of the assignment.
The aim of the exercise was to determine whether the popular belief that wisdom sometimes springs from the mouths of babes holds up when it comes to the culinary arts. The kids — then 6 or 7 years old, but today 20-somethings, perhaps with youngsters of their own — came up with such creative instructions for preparing the holiday feast that 17 years later the jury remains out on the question of whether they should quit their day jobs to seek employment in the chef business.
“Take one teaspoon of milk and one onion and two carrots and four tomatoes and mush it up together. Cut turkey open to put stuffing in. Cook at 8 degrees for half an hour,” wrote one bright-eyed lad intent on making readers forget Dear Old Mom’s cooking. “It will be good,” he promised.
A classmate offered something less mushed up and complicated, although his holiday guests would have done well to pack a lunch to tide them over while awaiting the presentation of his piece de resistance. All that any cook following his recipe had to do, the novice cook suggested, was “add one teaspoon of garlic to the turkey and put it in a 60-degree oven for 90 hours.”
The 90-hour requirement brought to mind the shopworn story about a grizzled old lumber camp cook’s recipe for preparing a feast of owl: Place the bird and a 12-pound rock in a cauldron of boiling water for the better part of a long weekend. Remove both. Throw away the owl. Carve up the rock. Serves six. Fewer, if the guests are relatively sober.
Meanwhile, back at the Winterport elementary school cooking seminar, one of the kids disclosed the secret of his stuffing, which sounded interesting, if a tad salty: “To make stuffing, use chicken meat, one cup of spaghetti, half cup of salt, one cup applesauce. Cook turkey for 30 minutes in a 500-degree stove.”
Another student, taking nothing for granted as to the sophistication levels of potential cooks following her recipe, advised that it was best to “use an oven to cook the turkey in. Then I put some stuffing in it. Then I put potato in the oven. And then we are ready to eat it. Yum, yum.”
Her friend advised that after the turkey is cooked “then you put on honey and pepper and salt and let it sit for a while. Then cook it again at 105 degrees for three minutes. Then you eat it. The end.”
The end, indeed. Time to watch the football game.
And time, as well, to cite something for which to be thankful as the latest version of Thanksgiving nears. One thing I am thankful for after watching television these past few days is that I have no plans to take a trip by commercial airliner from a major airport any time soon.
This means I will not, for security reasons, have to make a Hobson’s choice between a full-body image scan by a machine that leaves little to the imagination of anyone viewing the scan, and a touchy-feely full-body grope by a Transportation Security Administration employee before boarding the plane.
If the X-rated pictures of TSA employees in surgical gloves going about their grim exploration of the traveling public’s anatomy don’t make you want to flag down a bus for your next trip out of Dodge, I can’t imagine what might.
The absence of a full-body grope in our future pales in comparison, though, with the finer things in life — tangible and intangible — for which we should be thankful here in The Real Maine. Space limitations preclude a listing. But, like fine art, we know them when we see them. Come Thursday, in our rush to have the turkey cooked in a 60-degree oven for 90 hours, let us not forget to remember them.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.