A Creative Touch: New turkey technique ignited a passion for food
I grew up in a family that was incredibly passionate about all things food. It was a passion that started slowly, but the older I got the more interesting the things happening in my parents’ kitchen were. And as I remember it, the best part wasn’t just that we ate well, but that my brother and I sometimes got to help, too. There are photos of us somewhere in giant chef’s hats and aprons, probably ages 5 and 7, hamming it up in the kitchen as proof.
We had our own children’s cookbooks, our own chances to cook for our parents (with help, of course) and even were allowed to conduct our own experiments with food. On top of that we were growing, gathering and catching food with our parents. My mother and father made dishes from around the country and around the world. My brother and I would fight over the last piece of braised octopus. Nothing seemed off limits and they enjoyed pushing the culinary boundaries from time to time.
One event I remember in particular was a special Thanksgiving when I was still pretty young. Numerous friends and family gathered at our house for a special Thanksgiving treat: a clay-baked turkey. My father is a ceramic artist and also a “foodie,” so the idea seemed too perfect. I’m pretty sure, if my memory serves me correctly, that my father had heard about this idea from a friend. I don’t think there was ever a recipe or, really, a correct way to do it, but the idea was broached and my dad just went for it.
He bought a fairly big turkey, seasoned it with herbs, stuffed it in an oven bag and then covered the whole thing with clay and foil. I remember being huddled around it in our driveway, making designs in the clay, getting to leave my personal touch on the whole thing. My father had dug a pit and started a rather large fire earlier. Once there was a bed of good coals, we raked open a hole, threw in the turkey and started a fire on top of the bird. After what seemed like an eternity, we could finally smell the turkey baking, and my father and some friends wrestled the turkey out of the pit and took it inside.
Having been raised in a household that loved food the way ours did, this was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I remember being incredibly impatient to get a taste. My desire was so great that I began weaving in and out of the crowd in the kitchen, begging for a bite. When I finally tasted a scrap that my father snuck me, the flavor and moist texture more than made up for the wait. That moment has been burned into my memory ever since.
Even though it had been quite a while since that day of the clay bake, when a friend suggested we do a Thanksgiving in July meal last summer, my brain immediately flashed to what I still remember as one of the best days of my youth. And while preparing the turkey, I reminisced not only about that excitement-filled Thanksgiving so long ago but about the house I grew up in, the meals we prepared in it and the passion for food that my parents instilled in me. When I finally tasted that turkey again, I thanked my parents for raising me with such vivid culinary experiences and was grateful I could pass them on to my friends as well. Now I’m excited to pass on my parents’ sense for culinary adventure with this recipe.