I had never made a turkey. Every year I have spent Thanksgiving with loved ones, and I will bring dessert, or an appetizer or two, and help with the dishes, but I always stayed far, far away from the turkey. Damn things scared the hell out of me. I would even get the free turkey from the supermarket after I’d accumulated enough bonus points, and I’d donate it to charity. Turkey breasts? Sure, I can cook those. Turkey loaf? You betcha, but not a whole turkey. Can we say intimidated?
Which brings me to Rosh Hashanah. There are many traditional Jewish foods that are made for the New Year and other Jewish holidays. Here’s something most Jewish people won’t admit (and rest assured, I’ll be catching crap from my allergic parents after this post, but I’ll deal with it). Most traditional Jewish foods are…well…icky. Gefilte fish? It’s a last resort over Passover when you simply cannot stomach another piece of matzo. Carp? Herring? Brisket? UGH. I’m not a big fan of noodle kugel (but I’m in the minority on that) – it does not help that I can’t really eat it, which admittedly clouds my judgement. Stewed prunes (tzimmes)? Enough said. There ARE some traditional Jewish foods that are to-die-for good. Matzo ball soup and challah are fantastic. Knishes, when done properly, are yummy, and I love me some lox and bagels.
NAH and I have worked very hard to introduce both of our religions and cultures to each family. With that in mind, I host Rosh Hashanah now, as my allergic mom has gracefully passed on the crown (and still lovingly makes the best matzo ball soup on the planet). My non-allergic inlaws and brother-in-law attend Rosh Hashanah dinner with us. How could I possibly inflict brisket upon them? My mother makes fantastic brisket. It melts in your mouth. I just DO. NOT. LIKE. BRISKET. So Rosh Hashanah was somewhat of a challenge. 1 – I wanted to make something everyone would eat, and 2 – I wanted to make something that was allergy-free.
Enter the turkey. Everyone eats turkey. It’s a big, festive, celebratory bird, so I decreed it perfect for the Jewish New Year. We still had the apples and honey. We had matzo ball soup and challah. We even had apple cake on the table for dessert.
And boy, did we have turkey. I spent an entire day not only basting and seasoning, but frantically calling both moms (and as my mom-in-law was not in synagogue, she caught the brunt of the questions – non-allergic mom, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!).
Here’s what I’ve learned: Turkeys have two cavities. You have to pull out bags of icky and disgusting things from both. A 22-lb turkey (because, really, why do anything small?) does not take into account the weight of the roasting pan, 5 lbs. of potatoes, 10 portions of stuffing, or the liquid in said pan. You need serious upper body strength to pull the damn thing in and out of the oven. A turkey should be covered for the better part of the cooking. It takes DAYS to properly defrost. I've also learned that it's better to attempt a meal like this with family, because if it had failed, they'd have had to love me anyway, and we'd have had a good laugh (and then ordered pizza).
The end result? While it was heavy, completely gross to touch, clean, and stuff, it was, however, damn good to eat. I was really proud of what I accomplished (and quite full). We had a lovely Rosh Hashanah dinner with quite a few traditional foods, and I believe I’ve started a new tradition of my own. Oh – and food nerd that I am, that’s a picture of my very first turkey.