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Sense and Nonsense: Forget turkey tartare; cook that bird till it's piping hot through and through

November 21, 2012

By Lynda Hollenbeck

Holidays and catastrophes seem to walk hand in hand. When else does everything go as far awry as it does when you're in a hurry, behind with the meal and guests are about to stare you in the eye?
The other day we were sharing accounts of our Thanksgiving horror moments and I, of course, could not resist reviewing the crisis that occurred at our house a number of Thanksgivings ago.
The incident has appeared in this space before, but it just is hard to top, so here it goes one more time. (And maybe another later on. After all, it is my column.)
It all started with a grocery store ad in The Courier.
Why wouldn't I believe what it said? The Courier doesn't lie. (I'll stand behind that testament to the newspaper, but it seems that the advertiser fudged just a bit. But I precede myself.)
The colorful, full-page ad featured a fully cooked turkey on a platter, surrounded by the usual accompaniments for a Thanksgiving feast. The message was: "Let us cook your Thanksgiving dinner."
Never one to cook with enthusiasm, that got my attention.
I decided to let the store prepare our family dinner.
It sounded so good. Everything would be done for me except putting the food on the table and serving my guests.
The gist of the spiel was that you could pick up the whole dinner, it would be ready for the table, and all I had to do as just sit back and enjoy the fun. The meal would include turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, rolls, candied yams and pecan pie.
Oh, I was planning to add a few things — the obligatory green bean casserole, a corn casserole and mashed potatoes — but most of the meal would be ready and waiting. It was my kind of dream come true.
Everything was moving according to plan on Thanksgiving morning. The immediate family members were home and my Cotton Plant relatives were scheduled to arrive around 11:30 or 12. Not having to do any involved cooking, I was a happy woman.
A little before 11 o'clock I drove to the store to pick up the food. And therein is where I received a major shock.
Yes, there waiting for me was my order, which included piping hot dressing, gravy, yams and delicious-looking dinner rolls. And a wonderful-looking pecan pie. All according to plan with one little hitch — the turkey.
It was raw.
I paled when I looked at what was being presented to me.
"Why isn't the turkey ready?" I asked, following many gasps and moments of near respiratory distress.
"What do you mean?" the store clerk inquired.
"The meal is supposed to be ready," I explained, "as in COOKED."
The woman looked puzzled.
I saw a copy of the ad lying on the counter and showed her what it said.
"See! This doesn't mention anything about an uncooked turkey. The bird is supposed to be ready to eat when you pick up your order."
The employee was clearly confused.
"We didn't say it would be cooked," she argued. "The word 'cooked' isn't anywhere in there."
"Well, how does 'ready for the table' strike you?" I countered. "How many times have you served raw turkey to anyone?"
By this time, people were beginning to stare, but I didn't care. I had reached the panic mode.
I knew that before long, if it wasn't already happening, a car hauling my mother, my aunt and three cousins would be pulling into my driveway, and none of them was expecting an uncooked entree.
I hadn't planned a reenactment of "Rosemary's Baby" or anything close.
The employee decided she'd better call for the manager, which was a fine move, I thought.
"What seems to be the trouble, ma'am?" the man said upon approaching me.
"Well, I'd say we have a little problem. I came to pick up the Thanksgiving dinner I ordered, and I see that the turkey hasn't been cooked. Can you explain that to me?"
He looked at me as if I had two heads.
"Why would you have thought it would be cooked?"
"Well, because that's what your ad said. 'Let us cook your Thanksgiving dinner,' and I agreed to do just that. But when I came here today, I found hot rolls, dressing, gravy and candied yams, all ready to eat, so why in the world would I ever have thought I'd be given a raw turkey?"
My stage voice was rising to the occasion, because I expected the man to tell me there had been a horrible mistake, that he was firing his whole staff or that he had another turkey — a cooked one — in the kitchen.
None of this happened.
"We just never thought anyone would expect the turkey to be already cooked," he said.
"Then why would you have cooked all the other stuff?" I asked.
He didn't have an answer for me, but his face was turning red by this time.
It was no match for mine. I was the color of a fiery furnace.
I wish I could say the store made everything "right," but this isn't what happened. I left furious, taking home the raw bird. When I got to the house, I had to start roasting it — on a much higher temperature than normal.
Some of the kindergartners' accounts I had read about "how to cook a turkey" came to mind, but I really thought it needed more than three minutes as one little boy suggested. At that juncture I had never heard of fried turkey; if I had, I probably would have been tempted.
The bird eventually got done — somewhat later than I'd planned — and we ate it, but it wasn't the finest Thanksgiving entree I ever prepared.
Fortunately, humor runs in my family and we all had a great laugh about it, though everyone was pretty hungry by the time the meal finally was served.
I never fell for that kind of promotion again, and the next year I noticed that the store's Thanksgiving ad explicitly stated that there would be "some cooking required" for the turkey.
"Some cooking," I emphasize.
There'll be no more turkey tartare for our family. We'll take it the old-fashioned way — golden brown and piping hot.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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