The Secret of the Norman Rockwell Turkey

By Janey Womeldorf

Three years ago, I bought my first turkey with a built-in, pop-up timer. I had no choice. My sister, Mom and I had decided to gamble and purchase the family turkey last minute. We anticipated that the stores would slash prices closer to the time and felt sure we’d be able to snag a bargain somewhere. The problem with gambling, however, is that when it doesn’t pay, you do. By the time we got to the store, there were no 50%-off signs or red-penned stickers anywhere, and my heart raced as we approached the turkey aisle. Gone were the bargain-priced birds that had spilled out of the freezer cases just two days earlier and as we stared blankly into the refrigerated abyss below, two lonely choices stared back.

Choice one: The boneless, turkey-breast roll.


Now there is nothing wrong with a turkey breast shaped like a toilet roll. In fact, I cooked one the year it was just me and my husband, and I can attest to some extremely-appealing advantages:

First, clean up is a cinch. Apart from the fact that bacteria-laden, pink liquid drips from the wrapper as you walk it over to the trash, necessitating washing the kitchen floor when you have all four burners going, it’s a breeze. Second, there is no jagged carcass to dispose of which, despite how carefully you place it in the extra-strength trash bag will, without fail, still rip it to shreds. Third, as long as you don’t count the meat that didn’t get eaten (because let’s face it, meat shaped like a toilet roll will not taste as scrumptious as something with wings), or focus on the leftovers unworthy of keeping because limited freezer space meant choosing between that or Butter Pecan Ice Cream, (a no-brainer), then there is no wastage either. And fourth, it frees up oven space, which means you can cook sides at the same time, save on the utility bill and still find time to watch Shrek.

All said and cooked, the turkey roll was a wise choice given our circumstances. The cost per pound worked out more, but a twelve-pound bird was too much meat for even the keenest of turkey-sandwich lovers.

It comes with one consumer warning though: Norman Rockwell.

Let’s just say if Norman had been a fan of boneless turkey rolls, his infamous family Thanksgiving dinner scene would have looked drastically different. For one, they would not have needed such a large carving knife; Grandma’s old bread knife in the drawer would have sufficed. Two, the table center piece would have hidden the roll, potentially leaving the father looking like some crazy man yielding a knife. And finally, panicked, fearful faces would have added to the pandemonium once the family realized that the pale, disc of white staring up at them from Grandma’s once-a-year china was an imposter protein posing as turkey. Hardly the stuff of paintings.

So, if you want Norman Rockwell, go with the bird. If you don’t, shop early or pay the big bucks.


The other choice that stared back at us was the over-priced, more-than-we-needed, 22-pound turkey. It did, however, boast a convenient (read expensive) pop-up timer and tantalize our taste buds with its guarantee of a perfectly-cooked, juicy, unforgettable bird. Four hands loaded it into the cart which we then pushed and pulled over to the produce section, fingers crossed. Fortunately, Brussels sprouts are a love it or hate it kind of vegetable, and we love it. We piled them in and with everything on our mental-dinner plates checked off, steered our heaving cart to the check out where we contemplated taking out a small loan to pay for our Cadillac turkey.

Back home, we deliberated its defrosting. Should we put the turkey in the bathtub like when we were growing up, or empty the contents of the bulging fridge and safely follow the advice of the experts? Fortunately, much has changed since our single-bathroom days growing up, and we now have a separate shower stall. At least while the turkey sat in the bathtub, we would no longer have to choose between a strip wash, not bathing, or bathing with a naked bird. After sharing laughter and dangerous turkey-defrosting stories, we safely followed modern-day practices and began emptying the fridge.

When the big day arrived, I wrapped the bird in foil with the same precision I reserve for expensive Christmas gifts. I gingerly cut a hole to expose the little white tube that stuck out from its raw breast and set my own kitchen timer as a backup; ten people were relying on that pop. My sister opened the oven door, and with two of us holding the pan, we crammed the giant bird into our oven and hoped for the best. It was a team effort; we just hoped Tom would not let our side down.

Near the projected “pop” time, a nervous but excited crowd gathered around the oven door, and no-one dared leave the scene for fear of missing the action. It was family bonding at its finest and the anticipation and aroma of roasting turkey hung heavy in the air. Would the pop make a noise? Would we hear it through the glass? Would chimes of “Hallelujah” ring out from its cooked breast? We turned on the oven light just in case, and took turns peering through the heat-stained window.


Almost on cue, Tom delivered a faint but visible pop, and it felt like a New Year’s Eve party – everybody cheered jubilantly, and then left. Thirty minutes later, we re-gathered at the bountiful table and dug into our picture-perfect bird; the juicy, tender meat was everything the label promised and more, and we were pop-up hooked. Our Rockwellian-looking turkey inspired so many mouth noises and compliments that it left me in no doubt as to the real reason why such joy and excitement had oozed from the faces of the family in Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving scene:

It was their first pop-up too.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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