ONLY 15 DIETING days until the greatest feasting day of them all, Thanksgiving. For those of us who appreciate good food -- and lots of it -- there is no other occasion like Thanksgiving. What a day to catch up on all the calories avoided in anticipation of the holiday.
If there is a successful hunter in the household, forget about the laboratory-created, overly fat-breasted gobbler. Go back to yesteryear when people appreciated what the outdoorsmen of the family brought home. There is something special about bringing home your own bird on Thanksgiving and carving it at the table. It doesn't matter what species the bird is.
Maybe it's sour grapes on my part. My early Thanksgivings occurred during the Great Depression, and though we were New England farmers we never had turkey. We couldn't afford turkey.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving day was a big one, and we always had something special in the center of the table. Alas, it would be a fine barnyard duck or plump hen roasted well -- but one that we had fed and otherwise nurtured for many months prior to the holiday.
Eating an animal we had fed and talked to daily made us a bit squeamish. So we went light on the bird of the day, heavy into mashed potatoes, thick gravy, baked squash, cranberry sauce. creamed onions, a wonderful sage dressing and the pumpkin, squash and mincemeat pies.
With wild game, it's different. The association isn't the same -- there's a feeling of accomplishment in providing it for the family. And there's that unique natural flavor. This year we will have two large Canada geese. My hopes for a wild turkey went awry in the recent brief season.
Had I been successful, the gobbler would have been cooked with a recipe I found years ago in Turkey Hunting with Charlie Elliott, published by McKay. I prefer fruit mixed in with game, and this one, credited to Jane Gould in Outdoor Life magazine and chosen by Elliott, has it:
Turkey with Grapefruit and Cherries
2 grapefruits, preferably pink
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup red port
1 tablespoon each of port, sherry and brandy
1 medium can sour cherries
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of paprika
Pare skin from one grapefruit (avoiding any bitter white pith), and mince skins finely. In a small saucepan combine skin, dry white wine and 4 teaspoons sugar. Cook over moderate heat until sugar dissolves. Squeeze, strain and save juice.
Peel and section second grapefruit; place sections in small baking dish and sprinkle with 4 teaspoons confectioner's sugar, then glaze in hot oven. Drain cherries (save fluid) and marinate in 3 teaspoons of red port. Make a syrup by boiling 1/2 -cup cherry juice and 1/4 -cup sugar. Add 1 tablespoon each port, sherry and brandy, then cool.
Bake turkey until tender (see below), discard all fat from pan, then mix remaining red port with cherry pits. Stir in white wine and grapefruit mix, grapefruit juice and cherry syrup. Salt to taste and add paprika. Simmer until slightly thickened, add cherries. Garnish turkey with glazed grapefruit and serve with sauce.
If you don't have a wild turkey, try the recipe with the domestic variety -- or use it with a wild duck or goose, even a domestic duck. It's also great with pheasant or grouse.
Cook the turkey as you would a domestic bird, and do not overcook. Wild birds of any species dry out quickly because they have much less fat. To compensate for this when cooking, lay strips of bacon or salt pork over the breasts to compensate for lack of fat.
A sage dressing is among my favorites, but for somethin different try this: Cranberry Stuffing
2 cups ground cranberries
1/2 cup chopped celery tops
1/4 cup chopped parsley
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped dill pickles
3 tablespoons onion, chopped fine
1/3 cup sugar
8 cups bread cubes
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Saute cranberries, parsley, celery and onion in butter for five minutes, stir in sugar, add bread cubes and seasonings. Mix thoroughly. Allow to cool before stuffing.
Some might prefer a bit more sugar, but try going lighter and enjoy the cranberries. Again, a diet substitute sugar can be used. And what Thanksgiving meal is complete without cranberry sauce -- even if it must come from a can?
We make our own, and not too sweet. We like the tartness of fresh cranberries while saving calorie space for other goodies. Parboil cranberries for a few minutes, then add the minced rind from a few oranges, and sugar (we use a substitute) to taste, and blend in blender.