Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions

Welcome to my first blog.

Life is full of silly little events and happenings that we often dismiss or forget about over time.  Occasionally however, our normal everyday events can sometimes create the most memorable, lasting impressions on our families and friends.  I think this is how some of the greatest legends that long ago were retold around campfires and grew into supernatural or completely unbelievable folk-tales.  I have had the pleasure (although the jury is still out) of having several of these unique opportunities occur over the years.  I have one story, which is completely true (to the best of my recollection) that I have repeatedly been asked to retell – coincidentally, around above mentioned fires, usually after too many adult beverages, or on long car rides with the kids.

My story starts about 10 years ago, when my wife and I were hosting Christmas Dinner at our very small semi-detached house.  If you’ve ever hosted a family dinner, you know how stressful it can be.  Multiply that by a gazillion (that’s a real number – I looked it up!), and you get a sense of what Christmas Dinner hosting is like. The first step is an entire remodel of the house; painting, plastering, moving furniture, cleaning places that any self-respecting guy doesn’t even go, let alone sponge-mop.

We were really excited about our ‘turn’ at hosting my family this particular year.  Although my family isn’t huge by European standards, we usually run into the high-teens on head-count, and no one is what I’d call a light eater.  It’s also important to know that I have 3 brothers, all of whom are over-achievers, highly competitive, and sarcastic… dictionary definition sarcasm, not the pedestrian type.

Friends of ours had returned from a trip south of the border, and insisted that the best turkey they’ve ever eaten was a ‘deep-fried’ one.  WHAT??  Deep-fried turkey?  That was an insane thought – clearly an American tail-gate phenomenon that had no business on the respectable tables of a conservative Canadian table.  Of course, lacking all clear judgement, I borrowed their deep fryer for this years feast.  Now, I know what you’re thinking – recipe for disaster, right?  Wrong! I’m a responsible guy…

Using my talented food-service skills (and a few ‘Google’ searches), I found a great recipe for deep-fried turkey using a dry rub under the birds skin, and then soaking it in a bourbon mixture to pickle the bird for a few days before the big event.  Yum!

To be sure I wasn’t going to fail in front of my watchful, blood-thirsty family, I did a ‘test boil’ with the deep-fryer, using a chicken….smart, eh?  Well, it cooked perfectly in about 20 minutes and tasted great.  Excellent – man, I am GOOD!

Christmas day came – along with about a foot of fresh snow. I had set up an elaborate station in my backyard on a cement basketball pad, complete with overhead lighting, side walls to control the wind and snow, the soon-to-be infamous deep fryer, and a barbeque that played host to a ham (this might be a good place to tell you that my wife is a genius, thinking that some extra food might be a good backup plan.  Just in case).  Family arrived in stages, each one hoping they weren’t the last ones, since the disgrace of being the latest group is akin to being tarred and feathered and strutted through town.

Things were going great!  Liberal amounts of beverages were being consumed, the ladies were busy preparing vegetables and other stuff that for some reason should be on the table, but never gets any real credit.  The meat is the big show.  As it goes, so does the entire meal.  No one leaves the party saying ‘I must get that salad recipe from you’.

I had the deep-fryer chugging away in the back yard.  The ham was cooking slowly next to it on the barbeque.  It was time.  Like some sacred ceremony, I retrieved the beautiful bird from it’s bourbon bath and prepared to lower it into the peanut oil hot-tub at precisely the right temperature. I could almost hear a chorus of Angels as I lifted it out of the cooler it rested in. It would be a 40 minute oil bath, ending in a mouth-watering creation that Martha Stuart would be envious of.  How exciting!

Apparently, there is some chemical reaction between boiling oil and bourbon that I don’t recall hearing about in grade 10 science class.  Maybe I was off that day.  Anyway, as I lowered the fated bird into the oil, it seemed to reach up and grab the bourbon with a fury of anger and intent.  The oil shot upward, and over the side of the deep-fryer, spilling down and hitting the open flame below it.  Did I mention the open flame?  Anyway, apparently there is also some chemical reaction with fire and oil.  Another missed science class, I suppose.

As the oil hit the flames, the fire moved like lightning up the sides of the deep-fryer, igniting the entire contraption, down onto the oil that now covered the ground, and shot up, engulfing the doomed, bourbon-soaked bird that I was still holding.  There’s probably another lesson about fire and alcohol, but I’ll save that for another time.

As the fire covered the turkey, I panicked, and leaped backwards, quickly lifting the turkey out of harms way.  In doing so, my foot slipped on the oil-soaked ground, throwing me off-balance.  The turkey was now fully air-borne, looking like some Viking fire weapon or demon caber-toss thing, and it flew, fully on fire like a small meteorite across the yard, landing in a large snow-bank, making a perfect turkey-shaped hole like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.  There’s another science lesson here – snow puts out fires.

By now, I have a missing turkey, a good part of my backyard is on fire, and I’m laying in a small pool of burnt oil, slipping like Bambi on ice, trying to get my footing.   I do finally make it to my feet, and frantically grab handfuls of snow to put out the fire.  Eventually, the angry oil subsides, so I take the opportunity to dash back into the house, letting my concerned family know that we don’t need the fire-bombers after all.  Turns out that despite all of this fire and brimstone going on right outside the dining room window, not a single person noticed the carnage going on in the back yard.

As for the turkey, well, it looked like a bowling ball with wings, but we did manage to harvest a bit of breast meat….and everyone loved the ham.  I think I mentioned my wife the genius, right?  I also recall more than a few people asking for the yummy salad recipe that year as they left.

6 thoughts on “Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions

  1. OMG!! So glad that you wrote this down! I have tried several times to try to tell this story, but now I will be able to tell it with style!
    I had a great laugh to boot!

  2. Fantastic story Troy. Very well written and engaging. The line “like some Viking fire weapon” had me laughing out loud. Bravo….

  3. What I originally posted was “Well done, T-Roy, keep ’em coming” , but that got lost somehow. & I signed it ‘skitch’ hence my 2nd, explanatory post (clear as turkey-infested snow?)

  4. Pingback: Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account | The Lighter Side of Life

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