Since we are coming up on that time of year that turns otherwise normal people into ravening dervishes of doom, I thought I’d take a minute to tell you a story from my youth. An old neighbor of mine, who was as far from being a good cook as I am from riding a winner in the Kentucky Derby, decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for her family. However pure her motives, when put into reality this became a bad idea. She had heard that grilled turkeys tasted best and she had found a recipe for an 80 proof bourbon baste. She decided to marry these two concepts into a feast her family would never forget.
At that she succeeded.
To make the bourbon baste the turkey must be completely thawed with any residual liquid discarded. Then you fork the bird liberally and slather on a high quality bourbon and let the bird sit, refrigerated, over night. In the morning you repeat the slathering and begin cooking the bird. At this point you can, if you wish, add a dry rub of garlic, orange zest and coarse black pepper.
It is not advised to put a cup of bourbon in the turkey’s cavity, although this is what she did to ensure the flavor would permeate the meat.
Those of you playing along at home have already figured out what happened next.
With the loaded bird firmly in tow she went out and fired up the grill. Unclear on the concept of letting the coals even out their temperature, she placed the bird directly on the open flames. Before she could pour on the 3rd coat of baste the bird exploded in a terrific whumpf of meat and bone.
As family members ran outside to douse her flaming apron and others called the fire department since the fire was spreading all over the back deck, I sat in my back porch and enjoyed the show. I was told that, after she was released from the hospital for treatment of minor burns and hysteria, they had a lovely dinner at Denny’s.
I bring this up because Mary Clingman could have prevented this tragedy. As Monica Garske of AOL News reports, Mrs. Clingman has been preventing holiday cooking disasters her whole career.
For the past 29 years, silly, strange questions like these have been handled by the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, a free, 24-hour, call-in hot line staffed by expertly trained operators who know the ins and outs of preparing the perfect holiday gobbler.
Headquartered in Naperville, Ill., the Talk-Line is open to callers in the U.S. and Canada throughout November and December by calling 800-BUTTERBALL.
Those who phone in with questions about cooking their Thanksgiving meals are greeted by one of 52 highly qualified turkey pros, such as Talk-Line director Mary Clingman, who’s fielded endless weird calls during her 25 years at the holiday hot line.
Clingman told AOL News that some of her wackiest phone encounters include the time she stayed on the line with a rookie Thanksgiving cook as he wandered aimlessly through a grocery store buying every single one of the ingredients to make his meal. Clingman said the man wanted to be sure he got exactly what he needed, down to the turkey.
Another time, she answered the phone to a frazzled new dad whose wife had just had a baby. The man was nervous that their thawing turkey had been left out too long while they were away at the hospital and when Clingman asked him how much it weighed, the distracted but proud papa replied, “The turkey or the baby?”
Then there’s the year Clingman’s own son called into the Talk-Line for some very basic turkey advice. He was away at college and wanted to cook a Thanksgiving meal for his roommates, but his plan was foiled from the start.
“My son was wondering what to cook the turkey on and had chosen a cookie sheet because he didn’t have a roasting pan. The drippings from the turkey got everywhere, all over his oven, and set off he smoke detectors in his building,” she recounted with a laugh.
Another time, Clingman said a woman called in wondering if it was all right to cook her turkey on a bed of cat litter. Seriously.
But, Clingman said one of her all-time funniest calls came from a woman in Colorado who had the bright idea to bury her Thanksgiving turkey in a snow bank until she was ready to thaw and cook it.
“It had snowed heavily the night before and when she went out to get it in the morning, she couldn’t find it in the snow. She had absolutely no idea where her turkey went; she lost her turkey!” Clingman remembered.
All in all, that may have been the best thing to happen to that particular bird.
So, if you find yourself frazzled at the thought of cooking a turkey, or considering pouring flammable liquids onto an open flame, call Mary or one of her co-workers first. You’ll be glad you did and so will everyone near you.