Sometime in the early 1970s when my kids were about 11, 14, and 16 years old, I bought "From Julia Child's Kitchen." Momentous. The book falls open to the turkey gravy pages, yellowish now, and spattered with decades of gravy. I never followed any other recipe from this book, but year after year on the day before Thanksgiving, I would pull it out and spend several hours preparing her gravy. I just did it again this morning and, as always, had flashbacks to those other Thanksgivings--very faint ones from Santa Monica days, more vivid ones from San Anselmo, Novato, and Sacramento, and Chico. Everyone entailed the elaborate process dear Julia outlined. Thank goodness she suggested starting on the gravy a day early. It takes some doing as you wind up using every pot, pan, and utensil in the kitchen. Well, almost.
Here's how my morning went.
I haul the turkey from the garage fridge into the house--twenty plus dead-weight lbs, and plop it in the sink. Cutting away the plastic bag, it drips pink juices everywhere and I note warily the usual bright yellow instructions about handling turkeys safely. There's no way NOT to get this mess all over the sink area while trying to wrestle the still-frozen neck from the body cavity. I am more aware than I used to be that this was a living bird not long ago and my growing reluctance to eating birds and animals starts to rise up. I shove it down and proceed to crack that neck into 3 smaller pieces per Julia, halve the heart, quarter the gizzard and start them sizzling in a large pot with plenty of oil. Then I wash the bird, dry it carefully with paper towels, salt the cavity, rub soft butter all over its cold skin. I tie up the wings and lift the heavy bird onto the rack in the roasting pan. Now onto the gravy.
Last night Kathy cut up 6 cups each of carrots and onions while we watched "The Crown" (in which elaborate meals appear as if by magic on magnificent tables). So now, after removing the neck etc which is now nicely brownish, I toss in 4 cups of onions and carrots cook them for about 10 minutes. I spoon half of them into the turkey cavity. Then I add back the giblets, wine, chicken stock, water, sage, salt and set the whole thing to simmer for several hours.
I bathe some cheesecloth in olive oil, drape it over the turkey and carry the bird back out to the the garage fridge. Ready to pop into the oven tomorrow.
I scrub the sink and my self up to the elbows with soap and water, clean all the utensils used so far and retire to my office for a rest. Two hours have managed to pass since I started. I'm filled with memories of turkey dinners with teenagers, with young adults, with new wives, new boyfriends, my mom in her 80s with David the grump, grandchildren, grand nephews and grand nieces. I'll probably use this recipe until the pages crumble into dust. No matter that half the family is now vegan, no matter that Julia's turkey now shares space with a Tofurkey, this ritual has been woven into my psychic tapestry and will continue, in my memory if not in reality.