by Eileen Pedersen
October 8, 2017: Butterfly turkey with fennel, leeks, sausage, and ricotta stuffing! What? Yes. That’s what I’m making for 14 of us tomorrow for Thanksgiving (everyone’s contributing–I’m not that crazy). This is a huge stretch for me and I’ve been enjoying every minute. I heard the word ‘butterfly’ turkey for the first time last night on CBC radio. What the heck IS a butterfly turkey?? I had to look it up. How and why do you butterfly, or Spatchcock (really?!), a turkey? Remove the backbone and press on the breastbone till it cracks. The whole turkey flattens out then cooks in half the time and the juices drip into the stuffing which you can place under the rack on a very large baking sheet with a good-sized rim.
With arthritic fingers I knew I’d need a good pair of poultry scissors which I could not find–not one in the set of 5 pairs of scissors I bought for the job at Canadian Tire work. And I lost track of my parents’ meat cleaver quite some time ago. Enter my “Forever Sharp” serrated knife which finally gets the job done: backbone removed. Next—split the breastbone. Poised on a step stool and leaning over the sink, I press down with all the might my hands can muster on a slippery wet breast of turkey splayed out in the kitchen sink. I’m reminded of the ridiculously funny (and often disastrous) weekly radio stories, now archived, written and read by the late Stuart Mclean on his “Vinyl Cafe” program. I laugh out loud. I CAN do this. I crack the breastbone then wash and dry the bird. I dry brine (never heard of that either before today) the whole thing and it’s now curing in the fridge for 24 hrs, the absolute minimum. It can go in the oven at 2:00pm tomorrow.
I questioned my sanity occasionally throughout…why would I run around from store to store to store to store and back again and take all this time to gather ingredients, flatten a turkey and remove its backbone? And make this dressing I’ve never ever made before…back and forth from the kitchen to the computer and back again. I was inspired and it’s been terrifically satisfying and meditative creating a special Thanksgiving meal to share with my extended family. I didn’t even use sausages in the stuffing, I seasoned (according to an internet sausage recipe) fresh ground pork and beef from the local Italian deli, Star Grocery in Trail. It is so yummy I can’t wait for supper tomorrow. Do you want to know what else is on the menu? Peas and carrots, yammy fries, mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, green salad, pumpkin/apple pies and the plum clafouti recipe that my friend Moe posted on Facebook. And yes, gravy with the turkey broth I made from the backbone, neck, and giblets.
That was three years ago.
Our Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October. I’ve celebrated many with friends and with family in my adult years, all with the usual roasted turkey and trimmings, perhaps a ham, and the traditional vegetables, and pumpkin pie. I do not recall having Thanksgiving family dinners when I was a child. I do remember the pumpkin pies my mother made in the fall and froze in our freezer and which lasted until spring. On Sundays during Lent, when my parents were out of the house visiting friends and relatives, I’d crank the gas furnace, defrost 3 small pies over the floor vents and devour them. My parents didn’t mind as it had been a struggle getting me to eat. Unlike now.
Expressions of gratitude didn’t factor in to this celebration until my son was born. Two particular Thanksgivings that stand out for both of us involved afternoon excursions. Sitting on the “pot hole” rocks along the Slocan River eating our picnic lunch and pumpkin pie was the most memorable. The marvel of the woods, the sounds of the rushing water, and the erosion of the rocks into “pot holes” were cleansing and nourishing. We took turns expressing things we were thankful for. One year we drove to Colville and stopped for a picnic along the way to do the same.
As the years and decades passed, we learned to more deeply contemplate and appreciate each other’s unique ways of being both in the world and with each other, and to express these as mother and son. These are my most heartfelt experiences. We continue to reflect and be responsible for behaviours that caused pain as well as acknowledging the joys and very fun times we had…and there were plenty of those…like dramatizing how I’d make him waltz with me in his pre-school days when he’d go all limp in my arms and I’d end up dragging him along the floor in hysterics—we performed this skit at an independent school he attended in his primary years where I was employed.
I’ve come to more fully appreciate my family and friends for who they are (and not for whom I ‘expect’ them to be) and I’m happier camper these days because of it.
Speaking of camping and gratitude, I have finally reconnected with a childhood passion of being in the “elements”–the forest, the water, the rocks, the weather, the fresh air and the animals within. Memories of family fishing trips in the Cascades, Sunday picnics in the bush, bocce games at the ‘gravel pit’ on Easter Sunday afternoon resurfaced recently. But they weren’t just memories my brain handed me. This time, they were integrated memories accompanied by the re-membered whole body experiences of being joyously carefree and fully nourished—the smells of the forest, the sounds of water, the feel of bark and stones, and taste of freshly fried trout and polenta cooked outdoors. These days, ‘they’ call it ‘forest bathing’. And later, two overnight alpine hikes Chris and I did and our experience of trekking in the Nepali Himalayas 25 years ago. So, rather than putting off my love of being ‘in nature’ another second until my proverbial house is clean, I have chosen to chase alpine flowers, waterfalls and old growth forests with my ‘82 Toyota Okanagan Motor Home. Friends have joined me on this journey and it’s been invigorating and healing.
So today, Thanksgiving 2020, I’m thankful for my family of course and all the people in my life as well as the amenities I’ve been afforded. And for the memories. And most especially this year, for the sensory experiences and spiritual nourishment inherent in being in the bush. AHHHH. AMEN!
Eileen Truant Pedersen is an adult educator, writer, and retired school teacher who loves kids, music, dancing, and photography. She is the author of “Set in Stone~A History of Trail’s Rock Walls”, about the 100s of rock walls and their builders, mostly Italian stonemasons. Her son and grandsons are based in the Northwest Territories. She returned to her home town of Trail, BC 20 years ago.