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How to Cook a Turkey

For years, my husband and I would traipse between his parents’ home and mine for Thanksgiving dinner. It was tradition, and besides, there were so many leftovers to take home I wouldn’t have to cook for the rest of the week.

When our kids were old enough to understand the significance of the day, I decided that I would host the event. Everyone was invited and asked to bring their favorite pie. I would do the rest. It would be an old-fashioned Thanksgiving with everything made from scratch and a fresh bird ordered weeks in advance. It would be easy peasy, I thought, as I pictured my table laden with all the delicious, unadulterated food I would make!

The day before Thanksgiving, I donned my apron and spread all my baking ingredients on the counter. I proceeded to make the cornbread and rolls from an old recipe card. I’d never made them before, and my first efforts went into the trash. My second batch of rolls rose to a proper height and baked to a lovely golden brown. The cornbread tasted like sawdust.

I continued to my next recipe, date-nut bread. I cracked walnut shells and cut up dates which took an hour instead of the fifteen minutes I had allotted on my timetable. It was tedious work to separate all the broken shells from the nut meat. I couldn’t imagine if I’d had to make the pies, too. I was tired, and I hadn’t even gotten to the side dishes.

Thanksgiving morning, I gave my son a mason jar and a carton of cream. I explained that he was going to make and shape the butter that would sit on a special plate on the table (and would also keep him busy).

I scowled as he filled the jar and began to shake it – over his head, under his leg, and around his back – handling it like a basketball. I prayed he didn’t drop it, or we would be reduced to lowly margarine for our mashed potatoes and dry cornbread.

I spread the fresh cranberries in a bowl of water and let my five-year-old daughter check for stems before putting them into a pan of sugar, water, and spices. Kailey and I watched the skins burst and the syrup boil into thick red bubbles. It smelled heavenly. I spooned out a plump berry to taste and was surprised. All I could taste was the sweet syrup. I pulled out the Betty Crocker cookbook. I had to fix this.

At midnight, I poured out most of the syrup, added two cans of whole berry sauce to my concoction, and put it in the fridge. How could anyone mess up cranberry sauce? I buried the cans at the bottom of the trash can.

Early Thanksgiving morning, I chopped the onions, celery, and apples, and fried the sausage that would go into the dressing. I didn’t stop until the turkey was oiled, herbed, and stuffed. I put it into the oven and took a break. How had my mother done it all these years? Preparing Thanksgiving dinner was hard work.

I began to peel the potatoes while the kids cut giant leaves from red, orange, and brown construction paper for decoration. I had a stencil to trace so the leaves would all be the same size, but I couldn’t find it, and my need for perfection was running low.

I poured myself a glass of wine; I don’t drink wine, but then again, I didn’t bake either. I just wanted this meal done and ready to go on the table.

I checked the clock, I had plenty of time. I started to relax when I noticed that I didn’t smell anything. Shouldn’t the house be filled with the delicious aroma of cooking fowl, I wondered?

No, no, no. I couldn’t have… I dashed for the stove.

Yes, I did. I’d forgotten to turn the oven on. I chugged the awful-tasting wine and desperately tried to think through the fog of failure.

My husband walked into the kitchen. “Anything, I can do?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I need you to run to the grocery store. It’s open until 2:00.” I made a list: cornbread muffins, four boxes of any kind of frozen vegetable in a cheese sauce, butter, and another bottle of wine.

After he left, I took the room-temperature turkey out of the oven and cut the legs off – perfectly. I put them into the microwave on the lowest level and let them get warm and steamy. Then, I wrapped the legs in foil and popped them into the (now) heated oven. I scooped the stuffing out of the bird and into a casserole dish to cook separately. Using a cast iron skillet, I carefully flattened the top of the bird without cracking the bone and slid it into the microwave.

By the time my husband arrived home, the bird had been pieced back together with a large skewer and heavy string and was roasting in the oven. 


The perfectly browned turkey (achieved with lots of butter and liquid smoke) sat next to a mound of steaming mashed potatoes.

I held my breath as my husband sliced the turkey and passed the platter. Was it dry? Thoroughly cooked? I inspected each slice as my guests put it on their plates.

“Pass the cranberry sauce,” my father said.

Kailey passed the bowl with pride. “Me and mommy made it ourselves,” she said.

I cringed and picked up the butter plate. A smiley face looked back at me. I gave my son a silent thumbs-up.

I waited impatiently for the platter to get to me. I took my slice of turkey and tasted it immediately. It was good, really good!

I sighed with relief and added modern conveniences to the long list of things I was grateful for.

“Delicious,” my family proclaimed. Microwaved turkey – who knew?


  1. Nice again you hit a home run!!!! This is the story for a lot of us. I am thankful for family and friends. We are truely blessed. Thanks again for making me smile. Have a wonderful holiday season ❤️

  2. Loved this. I can really related. I have done Thanksgiving every year for 40 years. And I’ve learned to buy prepared now and no one knows. Love your stories.

  3. This story is what everyone can relate to. I still remember the first time I hosted my first Thanksgiving and giving Thanks that no one came down with food poisoning.
    Wonderful memories made and a tradition that still lives on!

  4. Great story, bought me back to the day I forgot to turn the oven on too 😞. It was a very late dinner. I agree with Diane, you hit a “home run”. Keep the stories coming!

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