The Turkey Carcass

In Steward School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, we were introduced to cooking.  The “Demonstration Cooking” was done in a building divided into a galley and a dining room.  We learned to cook different meats, vegetables, sauces, etc.  The instructors varied, and each was an expert in his subject.

During Thanksgiving week our instructor was Master Gunnery Sergeant Washington.  He argued that the turkey should be roasted the day before Thanksgiving, cooled and then stripped of all the meat.  The meat would be refrigerated and brought up to temperature prior to serving.  Also he believed gravy was the most important part of the meal.  Turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing were dull without being topped with the dark rich gravy.

The most important issue in making gravy was the stock.  After chopping all the onions and celery for the stuffing, the scraps were put into a stock pot with some bay leaves.  The turkey neck and giblets were also added to the simmering pot.  After the turkey was cooked and stripped of meat, the carcass, leg and wing bones were added to the stock.  It was allowed to simmer for hours.  We deglazed the roasting pans with the stock and strained it into containers.

On Thanksgiving we added stock to the stuffing (cooked separately) and also used some in reheating the turkey.  The deglazed liquid was enriched with the remaining stock and thickened into the best gravy I ever tasted.  Someone asked if chicken broth could be substituted, and Washington cried, “Blasphemy.”  The gravy did make the meal.

Jenny and I had house guests for dinner on our first Thanksgiving in 1967.  We cooked a small turkey but didn’t make our own stock.  The carcass was stripped of meat and put into the trash.  We took a lot of shortcuts, but it was a good Thanksgiving dinner for us.  We stayed up late playing Tripoley (a type of poker).  Finally we said goodnight to our guests who slept on our new Lazy Boy roll-out sofa.

Around 3:00 a.m. we heard a growl coming from the hall.  Something was being dragged along the carpet outside our room.  I turned on the light, and Gus (our Siamese cat) had retrieved the carcass from the trash and was going to stash it for a future snack.  We took the carcass from Gus, put it in the dumpster and tried to get back to sleep.

I didn’t sleep well that night.  The day before was my last day at the range detachment.  I took the remaining leave I had on the books and said goodbye to everyone.  Bradbury and I wished each other luck; it was likely we wouldn’t see each other again . . . he was retiring soon.  I asked him if he had any advice and he said, “Use your leadership skills.  Make things happen.”  He squeezed my shoulder, “you’ll be fine.”

Next edition:  I am the Walrus


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