Grandpa and Grandma’s turkey
1947 or earlier
North of Fort Collins, Colorado
Grandpa and Grandma Cogwell raised chickens and a few turkeys in the middle of the cherry and apple orchard where they lived in a basement house. The chicken coop was huge – in my eyes. Grandpa would get chicken feed from the mill in Fort Collins, being careful to pick out the right kind of material on the feed sacks so Grandma could sew her aprons and clothes for me along with dish towels. The left over bits of material were then made into quilts. But usually Grandma went with him on Saturdays to trade eggs and later in the year, chickens for groceries at Scribner’s Grocery. They traded eggs and dressed chicken. Dad and Mom traded pinto beans and white Japanese pop corn. Every Friday in the fall, we spent helping Grandpa and Grandma kill and pluck chickens – those that did not lay eggs, that is! Mom would help and I tried. I learned a lot even though I was pretty young, to pluck feathers off the wet chickens and watch grandpa pull the “Innards” out. He would locate the heart, liver and gizzard. We cleaned them in a bucket of water, and placed them in a dish for grandma to flour and fry in bacon grease for supper that night. Such a delicious meal!
About a week before Thanksgiving, Grandma would help Grandpa pick out a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. She would help him chop his head off and dunk him in boiling water to be able to pluck the feathers. This was a huge job, depending on how big that turkey was. Grandma gave instructions on where to put the big feathers and the fluffy pin feather. They went into pillows and “comforters.” If Grandma sewed a quilt I preferred to call it a “comforter” especially if Grandma stuffed it with her turkey and chicken feathers.
The plucked naked turkey hung upside down in the “coal shed” to cool and age. The day before Thanksgiving was a full preparation of getting ready to cook the turkey, the morning of Thanksgiving. I can remember my Grandma saying they would get up at 3 in the morning to stuff and put the turkey in the big blue enamel oven roaster pan, put the lid on and slide it into the Kerosene oven to cook slowly for about 6 to 10 hours. Later she acquired a large electric oven to accomdadate the turkey so it could cook to perfection. Grandma’s bread dressing was the best – homemade bread, chunks of chopped giblets – onions and celery, lots of sage and pepper.
Sometime in that day, potatoes were peeled and soaked in water, sweet potatoes were peeled and placed in a baking dish, butter and brown sugar sprinkled over top with a squirt of maple syrup.The pecans and marshmallows came later.
A day or two before that, Grandma peeled apples to make two or three apples pies with her most delicate lard pie crust. She had already pitted and canned cherries from the orchard, so cherry pies were next and last of all a couple of pumpkin pies. I have no idea when she had time to make sugar cookies and fudge that also was the dessert on the table. And then there was the homemade breads and rolls that appeared out of the kitchen pantry! How did she do all that? Grandpa was kept busy taking the “peelin’s” in a bucket, out to the remaining chickens and turkey’s. Nothing was wasted in the Cogwell household!
Usually green beans with bacon and onions was the vegetable. Her salad was the Apple Waldorf Salad that I loved so much. Of course from apples stored after being picked from the 80 acre orchard. Those apples were not peeled and were always bright red Delicious apples. Chopped celery, walnuts were added and then cream was whipped, with powdered sugar and real Watkins vanilla added and folded into the salad. She sometimes added mini marshmallows.
I still marvel at how much food she prepared and still was smiling long after the desserts were devoured. Usually with all the aunts and uncles and cousins milling around – most of the kids were outdoors and the aunts and nieces were setting around the kitchen table with a quilt that was lowered from the ceiling on pulley’s and rope. This is where I learned to quilt by hand and listen to the gossip!
My prayer, hopefully we will have a calm, peaceful Thanksgiving. Invite the less fortunate to your table. Our tradition in Alaska continues and is labeled “Orphan Holidays.”
There are so many people who have moved to Alaska and are so far away from the loved ones – we need to include them into our own families. After all we were in the same boat in Alaska at one time too.
Shake a Veteran’s hand and smile at someone you do not know.