It was several years ago that I experienced a turkey in Russia for the first time. Thanksgiving is not a Russian holiday but I had scoured many a supermarket across Moscow in search of just one big bird. No luck.
Several weeks later our cousin Natasha called and announced that she had found a turkey and would include it as part of our New Year’s Eve dinner. Great, I was excited and could hardly wait!
Then on the telephone she asked how to cook the turkey. Russians are slowly coming around to like turkey but back then it was a rare treat to eat turkey in a large Russian city. After asking the size of the bird at which she answered “very big,” I gave careful instructions on setting the oven to 350 and baking the bird for 4 to 4.5 hours.
I should have known better. Cooking a moist turkey is a gift learned from my mother so I clued in Natasha about adding a stick of butter in the turkey cavity along with 2 cans of broth. Thankfully she didn’t even know anything about “turkey dressing” and so there was no breading to dry the turkey from inside out.
Perhaps we should talk about that word, size. Maybe if I’d bothered to ask about the turkey’s weight then disaster could have been averted. Alas, I didn’t, assuming that “big” meant 14-18 pounds as in a big American turkey. Russians don’t use growth hormones or artificial fillers so the bird turned out more like a big chicken.
I knew that we were in trouble the minute we entered Natasha’s flat the evening of New Year’s Eve. The aroma of something that had cooked far too long wafted to the front door. But there, sitting on a platter, proudly I might add, in the middle of a large table was a small, overdone to the point of almost blackened, turkey.
Everyone was smiling and waiting for my reaction at seeing the turkey. I wanted to cry but smiled instead and voiced my thanks for finding and preparing something so “American” that holiday. Everyone tried to take a piece of turkey to sample the exotic American taste for turkey. However my instructions of 350 degrees at 4 hours for a bird about the size of a big chicken had cooked that turkey into a mass of something resembling a concrete block.
They tried. I tried, too, but it was too far gone.
Later that night as we counted down the final 60 seconds of the old year cousin Gera and I each grabbed a heavy turkey leg and gave new meaning to the term “drum” sticks as we beat to the time against the tabletop.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers from the Mendeleyev Journal!