Talking Turkey: I Have a Lot of Catching Up to DoJanuary 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”).
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.
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.