It’s the season. The leaves have started falling, and the trees along the streets have started wearing their amazing cloaks of red, orange, yellow and purple. Everywhere I look these same colored leaves are falling, hurtling in the air, anxious to lie down on the still green grass. Fire in the hearth goes up, and you start thinking of roasting and grilling some kababs on the grill inside.
And with this falling of the season comes another season. The season of turkey eating. Now, a lot of people in this country absolutely love the fowl. Turkey is the mantra they live by. I couldn’t be too bothered with its taste or the texture. Mother used to cook it at home with spices and make it like qorma. The pieces were okay but nothing that I craved. But that was more than half a century ago, when my palate was not as “sophisticated”, and when I was told to eat something, I had to eat it regardless of whether I liked it or not. It is different here.
It is a tradition to make turkey. It is the centerpiece of all tables. Baked bird, sitting high on top of stuffing, and smothered with potatoes and carrots and what have you. The first year I was in this country, we were invited to a Thanksgiving feast by some friends. They talked about the ‘bird’ endlessly. I would look at them with surprise, my eyes wide with anticipation of manna and salwa! I started dreaming about the bird. Came Thursday, and we drove thirty miles in the country to our hosts and meet their entire family and of course the ‘bird’!
I have to tell you though, the table looked amazing. The turkey was the center of attention, baked red and golden, its breast up, the wings folded over, and then I saw its legs… the drumsticks as they are called. Plump and golden and between these drumsticks was this cascade of stuffing made with bread crumbs and celery and doused with broth. “Oh yuck!” I thought to myself! I am supposed to eat that blob?
The carving of the turkey brought out all sorts of oohs and aahs from the rest of the people and I just kept getting goose bumps all over my skin. I filled my plate with a thin slice of the bird, some mashed potatoes, green beans and a slice of bread. Couldn’t bear to eat the stuffing that was coming out of the turkey’s lower part! One mouthful of the bird meat, made me almost choke! God Almighty, what is this? The meat was tasteless, no spices, nothing… everyone around me was just over the moon with praises for the moistness of the bird, and the delicious tenderness. They kept asking me, “don’t you just love this bird?” I would look at them and say, “This is my first time with it!” That was the wrong thing to say. They brought more meat and offered it to me.
Anyhow, the dinner was suffered through by me, and then of course the desserts were served. I did more than justice to that.
To this day, fifty plus years later, I still cannot tolerate the turkey at Thanksgiving. However, yes, however, I have found the answer to my prayers. A decade or more ago, in one of the Neiman Marcus catalogues, which had the epicurean section of meats and desserts I found a turkey that was hickory smoked and honey cured. Voila! I had hit jackpot! I ordered it. It was a great hit in my household, and for the last umpteen years that turkey has sat at one of the corners of my Thanksgiving table! The centerpiece of course is Biryani and Murgh Musallam, Shami and shikampur, baghare Baigan and dahi ki chutney. Neiman Marcus doesn’t offer that particular turkey any more, but thanks to Google, I have found other places that do.
So in this season of thanksgiving, I am grateful that I have the turkey for the guests who love it, and my own kind of food that I love. The table with all the delicacies stretches out in the dining room. I think it is okay to have the bird once a year, don’t you think?
Seriously though, when you think of Thanksgiving, we have to think of the native Indians who had to give up so much and who were so hospitable to the white man and yet got the short end of the stick.