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Baking the Christmas turkey

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As we enter the Christmas season, many of you are looking back on Thanksgiving and thinking, “I wished I had baked a turkey.”

I know why you didn’t. So do you.

Turkey-baking is a daunting task.

The bird is big.

You have only one chance to get it right.

All sorts of things can go wrong. And if wrong they go, the blame falls on the cook.

You are the cook.

So, full of dread at the prospect of disaster, you went out and bought one of those easy-bake turkey breasts, which are an anathema to dark-meat lovers like me. You served it up with selected sides, like mac-and-cheese, never once wondering when did mac-and-cheese became holiday fare.

All this you passed off on family and friends with a casual, “A whole turkey is so, you know, passé.”

And everyone looked at you “that way.”

You sulked back to the kitchen, knowing you had failed as a host/hostess, and that those who were gathered around your table hoped that, come Christmas, they get an invitation from someone who knows how to bake a turkey.

Well, friends, and you are my friends, I am here to help you.

Yessir, Old Hardy is gonna pass on to you the method my sainted mother, the Queen of the Kitchen, followed to make sure that our Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Easter would be celebrated with a perfect turkey.

No, not Daddy, well maybe . . .

There I go digressing.

According to my wife, whose memory is far better than mine, the whole thing actually began with Daddy.

He read the recipe somewhere and didn’t believe it would work, so he got a bird and, with his equally skeptical helpmate looking on, tried it.

Success!

And there was joy among the Jacksons and those who gathered together with us to ask the Lord’s blessing.

Now, here it is. My Christmas gift to you.

First be warned. THIS ONLY WORKS WITH AN ELECTRIC OVEN.

If you have a gas oven, go find yourself a turkey breast.

Also, we have never tried it with a turkey weighing more than 20 pounds. Might work. Might not. If you don’t want to risk it, don’t get a big bird. They are so passé, any way.

Here we go:

The day before Thanksgiving, or the day before whatever holiday on which you are feasting, thaw the turkey. Remove the giblets and save them for the gravy. Wash and salt the bird inside and out.

About two hours before your bedtime, on the evening of that day before the turkey is to be eaten, preheat your oven to 500 degrees.

While the oven is heating, get out your graniteware roasting pan, the kind with a lid, the kind my mama used once or twice a year — Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whenever she got in the mood for turkey and could find one. Living in a rural county where turkey-hunting was the passion of many, it was not odd for someone to bring us a fresh kill to clean and cook. Though the plucking and preparing was a pain, we never turned one down.

Now, back to the directions.

Place the bird breast-down in the roasting pan.

If you don’t have a roasting pan, get one of those big, old, throw-away ones they sell at the grocery store.

Add one quart of cold water.

Cover the bird with the lid of the pan or with heavy-duty aluminum foil — make sure whatever cover you choose seals the bird completely so that heat and steam cannot escape. That is very important.

Place the bird in the 500-degree oven and cook one hour, undisturbed.

After that hour, turn the oven off.

DO NOT open the oven. No peeking. If you cannot control your curiosity, if you cannot be patient, then you have no business doing this. Go watch TV. Or read a book. Play with the dog. Self-restraint is required.

Then go to bed. Get a good night sleep. And in the morning, when you open the oven, the bird will be done so moist and tender that it almost falls off the bone.

No lie.

We did one for Thanksgiving and it was the hit of the meal.

A word of caution: Make sure you turn the oven off after cooking the bird for an hour. The electric stove will hold the heat and the turkey will slowly cook overnight.

If you forget, disaster awaits.

If your bird is cooked at 500 degrees, all night long, the best you can hope for is turkey cracklins and turkey jerky to go with your mac-and-cheese.

The worst would be a fire.

Wouldn’t want that.

Happy Turkey Day, whenever it comes around.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and occasional OpEd and Features writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.