Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pity the Poor Turkey

Editor's note: The Clarke will be closed Thursday, November 28 through Sunday, December 1 in observance of Thanksgiving (maybe we'll be trying out Glady's turkey casserole recipe). We will open Monday, December 2 with our regular business hours -- Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm) 

Pity the Poor Turkey...OR...A Turkey of a Blog Post

by Frank Boles

A roasted turkey will be the centerpiece of tables across the state on Thanksgiving. Despite being a day most living turkeys dread (if living turkeys think about this sort of thing, or actually think much at all), an examination of the Clarke Historical Library’s Maureen Hathaway Culinary Archives suggests that the turkey which makes it through Thanksgiving is a turkey destined for a happy life.

To the likely joy of turkeys throughout Michigan, roasted turkey recipes have all but disappeared from contemporary cookbooks. In the “old days,” comprehensive manuals almost always included a recipe or two for roast turkey. The Home Treasure: A Guide to Health, Wealth and Happiness, published in Battle Creek in 1890, The Home Economist, published in Detroit in 1895, and the 1915 edition of the venerable, Dr. Chase’s Combination Receipt Book, first printed in Ann Arbor, all contained fine recipes for roasting a turkey.

But directions for a roasted turkey were fast becoming scarce. Sara E. Woodworth Craig’s, Scientific Cooking with Scientific Methods, published in 1911 and apparently given to purchasers of the A-B Gas Range, included not a single recipe for turkey. The book had twelve recipes for chicken, and offered advice for the person whose kitchen happened to have in it a goose, a duck, a quail, a guinea fowl, a partridge, a plover, or a woodcock; but as for turkey the advice offered was to take the stuffed chicken recipe and a play with it a bit.

By 1938 the Blue Book of Cooking: A Collection of Favorite Recipes of University of Michigan Alumnae turned turkey into a novelty dish to be broiled. “This is a meal for connoisseurs,” claimed the recipe’s author, Elisabeth Corbett, of New York City. Then again, Ms. Corbett’s “a meal for connoisseurs” is a kindness compared to the recipes editor Molly Abraham includes in Detroit Cooks, published in 1983. The turkey is pretty much reduced to leftovers, as in “Glady’s turkey casserole,” “Savannah turkey salad,” “turkey cheese casserole,” “turkey tetrazzini,” and “turkey cranberry squares.” Molly tried to improve upon this sad list by grandly calling the turkey cheese casserole “Potee du Lendemain,” but there’s only so much a French name can do to upscale a dish, especially when the recipe is printed next to Glady’s somewhat less-august sounding suggestion that includes one and one half cups Ritz crackers (crushed) and a 10 ounce brick of frozen broccoli (cooked and drained).

This Thursday, before you tuck into your turkey, we hope you will give the bird’s culinary tradition just a moment of respect. And if you really need it later, Glady’s recipe is printed below.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Glady’s Turkey Casserole, from Molly Abraham, editor. Detroit Cooks (Detroit: Mother’s Club, University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, 1983)

  • 1.5 cups Ritz Crackers, crushed
  • .5 oz butter, melted
  • 10 oz frozen broccoli cuts (cooked and drained)
  • 2 cups turkey pieces [cooked]
  • .5 cups blanched almonds (optional)
Cheese sauce
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 3 Tbs. flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 Jar Old English cheese 
Mix butter and crackers. Line bottom of 2 quart casserole with scant half of mixture. Lay cooked and drained broccoli over cracker mixture. Lay turkey over that. Next almonds, if used. Pour sauce over. [Glady apparently assumed the cook would know how to make the sauce, as no instructions were printed explaining how to make it.] Put rest of cracker crumbs on top. (If making night before refrigerate.) Bake 350 degrees uncovered for 30 minutes. Best if made the night before. Serves six.