Early in our marriage, before we bought our farm (2001) we got invited to two feasts on Thanksgiving day, one early in the day and the other toward evening. We were concerned that we wouldn't come home with any leftovers from either of them.
But then we realized that if we cooked our own meal a few days EARLY, we'd have a lot of leftovers all week and could still go to our friends' homes on Thanksgiving day.
So we bought a 12 lb. turkey and cooked the turkey and trimmings the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We felt so smart about having leftovers BEFORE thanksgiving. (Are they called "left-befores" when this happens?)
I washed and salted the turkey while Joseph went next door and borrowed a bowl of crisco from our neighbor. We have a family recipe called "Turkey in a Bag" that makes the most perfect roast turkey you've ever had, and remarkably easy, too. No basting. It's a winner. You can cook up to 20 lbs. of turkey in three hours. And as our family knows, it's always perfect.
The first part of the recipe is buttering the paper bag with crisco (or any oily stuff) so it doesn't stick to the turkey or catch on fire in the oven. Joseph crisco-ed as I stuffed the turkey.
When I finished he held the bag wide open while I slid the turkey in and we stapled it shut. (No, we did not make this up. That's what the recipe says to do.) We carefully carried the en-bagged turkey in its pan, opened the door to our 450 degree heated oven and placed it inside. Then we checked the clock.
The recipe gives very specific instructions that once you put the turkey in the oven, under NO circumstances are you to open the oven door until it's done.
Two minutes later Joseph hesitantly said, "Is it okay that there's smoke coming out of the oven?"
We stared at the stove for two full seconds while reviewing previous turkey in a bag cooking experiences but neither of us could remember little puffs of smoke being part of it.
We had a brief psychic struggle with the part of the directions that absolutely forbids opening the oven door for three hours, but curiosity prevailed. We opened the door and saw the turkey rapidly flambeing itself in what was left of the bag.
We batted at the flames with the potholders but that made charred scraps of burnt paper fly all over the place. Joseph threw on the oven mitts and he quickly and gracelessly lifted the pan out of the oven while I ran ahead opening doors to the outdoors.
He slid the burning turkey in its pan on the concrete steps outside our front door. We stepped back to marvel at how remarkably high flames from a little grocery bag could go. It was quite a sight for our neighbors to see, which they all did and with much fanfare, hooting and hollering and making loud commentary about the "little woman's cooking prowess." Giant two foot high dancing flames spit and sizzled.
By the time the flames died down the turkey was a lovely golden brown. Unfortunately it had only cooked for a little over two minutes. It looked just beautiful, but it WAS completely raw underneath the lovely golden exterior.
So we brought the turkey back inside and rinsed all the little charred pieces of grocery bag off it. Joseph crisco-ed another grocery bag, this time making sure that he also crisco-ed the OUTSIDE of the bag, not just the inside.
To his credit, the recipe didn't SPECIFICALLY say to grease the outside of the bag, it just said "grease the bag." Who would think that meant inside AND out?
Somewhere back in our memories we recalled an old Ray Bradbury movie about book-burning titled "Fahrenheit 451" and remembered that was the temperature at which paper burns. We weren't cooking at 451 though. We distinctly had set the oven at 450 degrees.
We thought, though, precise as we were, perhaps we MIGHT have had the dial on the stove temperature just a degree or two higher than 450. Not sure, but possible.
As a safeguard, before we put the turkey back into the oven, we moved the shelf down to the very bottom rather than to the almost-bottom. This conveniently left a full three inches above the turkey rather than the scant half inch we had the first time.
Anyway, the turkey sizzled without incident for the next three hours, giving us plenty of time to air the smoke out of the house and sweep up charred paper from EVERYWHERE. Try sweeping floating ash sometime. We used a combination of broom (floor), damp sponge (curtains), and vacuum cleaner hose held in mid-air. Over the next hour we did get MOST of it.
The turkey cooked.
Our cats complained loudly that someone was in the oven hissing. They told us they don't like other animals in their house, especially ones that hiss. We tried to tell them it was a bird in the oven but they never believed us for a minute and told us birds don't hiss, they chirp.
While it cooked we made mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, baked squash, chunky cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, baked carrots and homemade gravy from the drippings.
We had our turkey dinner Tuesday. Then Joseph cooked up the "left-befores" for brunch on Wednesday. We had more for lunch, and for dinner Wednesday night. Then we had a little more of all of it for breakfast Thursday morning. By about noontime Thursday we'd pretty much had our fill of turkey dinner with fixings and the idea of driving over to someone's house to eat more of it sounded, well, not very appetizing.
So we phoned our regrets, put on our hiking boots and went out for a walk in the wet northwest Washington woods.
If you want to try the recipe for "Turkey in a Bag," please do. If you remember to grease BOTH sides of the bag AND don't let the bag touch the upper burner coils when it's cooking, it's a pretty foolproof recipe.
- 1 turkey (up to 20 lbs. Cooking time is not dependent on weight of turkey)
- 1 plain brown paper bag (preferably without printing)
- 1 jar of Crisco, stick of butter or any greasy stuff
- Cooking rack and deep turkey pan.
- Preheat the over to 450 degrees.
- Grease the bag inside and out.
- Stuff your turkey.
- Put the turkey inside the bag.
- Staple the bag securely shut.
- Put the brown-bagged turkey on a cooking rack in the pan.
- Place the turkey and pan inside the oven.
- Do this quickly so you don't lose any heat.
- Be sure the top of the bag doesn't touch the top oven coils.
- Cook at 450 degrees for ninety minutes.
- Turn temperature down to 350 degrees and cook for ninety minutes more. DO NOT open the oven during the cooking.
Yum! It will be the best turkey you ever made, we promise.
More stories about our farm on our website.