Talking Turkey: I Have a Lot of Catching Up to Do

January 1, 2013

Confession: I’ve never cooked a Christmas turkey … haven’t even come close.

Growing up in 1960s Australia as new immigrants, we embraced each Christmas Eve – like many Europeans do – as the main festive season celebration. Christmas Day on the other hand was spent with family friends at harbourside picnics. No sit-down dining room lunches for us: we swam, watched the adults playing cards and ate northern Italian fare of wiener schnitzel, Kransky sausages, potato salad and radicchio – with not a trussed-up bird in sight.

I feel like a misfit when friends talk about their turkey roasting secrets. Sure, I’ve made roast chickens. Even turkey osso bucco. But I never had a reason to cook a whole roast turkey, until discovering a surprising recipe.

A book published in 2010 of Marilyn Monroe’s private writing reveals she was a confident cook who even prepared her own complicated stuffing for turkey or chicken. The complex task of measuring, soaking, chopping, shredding and browning took more than two hours – after shopping for the 15 ingredients. I’m not a big fan of poultry stuffing, usually disliking the flavour but really being put off by that infamous Mr. Bean turkey stuffing episode where he loses his watch inside the enormous bird’s cavity. The word “forcemeat” springs to mind here (from the French “farce”). screenshot_MM_recipe_2

Fragments is a collection of Marilyn Monroe’s intimate notes, poems and letters spanning 1943 to her death in 1962 and includes the stuffing recipe hand-written on an insurance company letterhead.

The recipe dates from 1955 while Marilyn was at the height of her movie fame and The Seven Year Itch was released. Food historians consulted about the ingredients – which included sourdough bread, hard-boiled eggs and turkey giblets – concluded there was an Italian connection due to the inclusion of oregano, pine nuts, raisins and grated Parmesan cheese. These hint at a southern Italian influence and it came in the form of Joe DiMaggio, whom she married in 1954 and whose parents were first generation Sicilians. The other clue? The absence of garlic. DiMaggio, eager to assimilate into the American mainstream, didn’t eat garlic.

Turkey cupcakes (with stuffing). Image beaumontpete - flickr

Turkey cupcakes (with stuffing). Image beaumontpete – flickr

I have almost a year to work up to this challenge. Or skip the main course and go straight to dessert with these turkey cupcakes. Or change my mind and stick to the Christmas schnitzel.

Here’s Marilyn’s stuffing recipe.




  1. Another thoughtful piece of writing. Love your work! Picnics are our favourite Christmas day fare, particularly being a two-person household. Will be going for gold next year with the full turkey lunch, when family come to stay. I’ll give Marilyn’s stuffing recipe a whirl then. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Rachel. I’m thinking that a “bake-off” or “roast-off” could be fun, ie get some cooks to test M’s recipe next Christmas and see the results. Let’s keep in touch.

  2. Hmmm very interesting A but would suggest you don’t worry about “catching up” and maybe concentrate on Easter?!

  3. I love the Marilyn recipe on a scrap of paper. My mother started cooking stuffed chicken about 20 years ago for Christmas – but it was deboned – it takes about about ten minutes to turn it into a spineless chook ready to be stuffed with northern Italian meats – pork, veal, prosciutto, pressed tongue. Quite a feat! However I am not a big fan of the turkey – too big and too long to make! I will leave it to the Americans – they can have the oven turned in for 5 hours on Christmas morning – it is winter there after all!

  4. You’re right Paola. I wish turkeys were a quarter the size, tasted better and weren’t as dry.

  5. Ciao Ambra, ho sempre amato le illustrazioni di contenitori in metallo. Grazie per la condivisione e complimenti.

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