After some thirty odd years of preparing Thanksgiving dinner I have much to be thankful for. All my guests have survived.
I pretty much follow the rules. I wash my hands until they are chapped and clean the cutting boards. I do not remove the wrapping from the frozen turkey until it is time to cook. And still I worry.
This year in the middle of the night a few days before the big gathering I sat bolt upright in bed suddenly wide awake. This turkey tucked cozy in my frig, I realized, did not have a pop-up timer. I got it free because I spent so much money buying the trimmings. I have never cooked a bird this size without a pop-up timer. I should have known I was getting an inferior model from the over generous grocer. I am usually suspicious of "free".
A ritual every year, I play the game. That turkey is like a baby that has entered my life for four or five days. The Internet says the safest way to defrost is in the refrigerator. Allow one day in the frig per 4 pounds. The baby this year is 21.73 pounds. So I am guessing it needs five days of refrigerator time...roughly. This defrosting is the first step in keeping guests alive.
The fear of too early thaw or too late has me fondling the turkey daily, patting and checking it as often I would check a sleeping babe to make sure it is breathing. I remove it for a half hour from the frig to "jump start" the thawing process when it is still rock hard after two days. By day three and a half I am a tad concerned it is too soft too quickly.
Now this year I have realized there is no implanted timer. I wonder how the pilgrims did it. Think of it. A little salmonella could have wiped out the entire first Thanksgiving and we would not be celebrating today. How will I know if the turkey will be safely cooked without the little red and white gizmo whose judgement I have come to worship.
There are of course other methods. "Wings should wiggle freely". "Juices should run clear when turkey is pierced with a fork". Really? "Cut to the bone and make sure meat is not pink". I have visions of a scared bird shredded by test cuts.
So I have sent out an SOS to friends and neighbors. I now have four meat thermometers at my doorstep. I don't trust meat thermometers but I have no choice.
One is a tad high tech for me.
Another is loaned to me with the disclaimer that it has read 140 degrees all year in the drawer.
I've decided to use all four and take the average reading. The bird looks porcupine- like and I wonder if porcupines are edible and do they carry salmonella.
I will use some calculation based on the directions on the plastic wrapping. The grid suggests that for a bird in the range of 20-24 pounds the cooking time if stuffed would be 5-6 hours. Seems a lot of lea way there. So I will add a prayer to the gods of the roast.
I am not worried if the result is too dry or juicy. I will just be happy when the carved bird is delivered to the table fully cooked.
And I will be eternally thankful for another year of safe eating. Happy Thanksgiving! May your turkey be cooked with care.