holidays, meat, williamsburg cookbook

Roast Turkey

Happy post-Thanksgiving, all! I hope your homes were full of the people you love and your tables laden with delicious food.

We had a relatively simple Thanksgiving out in Ohio, where my family lives. After the requisite morning of cleaning (we maybe have a problem with piles of mail at our house), we settled down to the most important task: cooking. We mixed, baked, sauteed, and roasted.

One thing I love about this holiday (besides the excuse for massive cooking, of course) is how much tradition comes into play. My dad prepares weeks beforehand by testing out his mother’s recipe for pumpkin pie until it’s perfect (much to my mom’s dismay). We always take an afternoon walk in the park while the turkey cooks. And my sister always makes mashed potatoes and brownies. For someone who has a hard time accepting change, it’s the perfect holiday.

And yet, there’s always something different. Our traditions, to which I cling so fiercely, are actually fairly new, adapted since we’ve lost family members. So Thanksgiving is much different from the holiday I remember growing up. And sometimes it’s just a small change, a new recipe to try.

Like this roast turkey recipe from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery. The book is another modern compilation of recipes, but taken directly from 18th-century cookbooks and manuscripts from old Virginia. I’ll tell you more about the book in a few days.

Meanwhile, the turkey! We prepared it along the lines of 18th-century birds, rubbed only in butter, and stuffed it with a basic Williamsburg dressing. To quote:

“Put the Gizzard, Heart and Liver in cold Water and boil till tender. When done, chop fine and add stale Bread, grated, Salt and Pepper, Sweetherbs, two Eggs well beaten.”

(boiled giblets)
(sweetherbs)

You’ll notice the lack of specific measurements, as well as clarification on the exact types of “Sweetherbs.” But this was typical in the 18th century, where most women learned to cook at their mothers’ sides and could estimate the proper amounts of ingredients. So I tossed in some fresh parsley, along with dried marjoram, basil, thyme, and tarragon, imagining that those might have grown in a housewife’s kitchen garden. Then I added the chopped giblets (smelling richly of turkey) and bread crumbs, and mixed it all together with the eggs. My dad and I “Fill[ed] the Turkey with this Dressing” and set it to roast.

Now, technically the stuffing was the only truly historical food in this recipe. My dad closed the openings with little metal skewers instead of sewing them shut, and he covered the bird in aluminum foil to keep in the moisture. It was pretty funny to see the finished bird with all sorts of metal and temperature contraptions sticking out of it.

But oh, the taste. The giblets added a complex richness to the stuffing, and the herbs complemented them nicely. We used to do all sorts of complicated things to the turkey, like brining it and rubbing it in spices, but I must say, Williamsburg (and aluminum foil) got it right. This is one new recipe I don’t mind adding to our traditions.

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