Turkey in a Bag

Turkeys on Stairs <–Our turkeys climbing the stairs to see the view from the deck
Early in our marriage, before we started raising our own turkeys, we got invited to two feasts on Thanksgiving day, one early in the day and the other toward evening. We knew, however, that we’d be leftover-less and we both have family traditions of leftovers for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving. What to do?

Then Joseph suggested we cook our own meal a few days EARLY so we’d have plenty of leftovers and could still go to our friends’ homes on Thanksgiving day.

So we bought a 12 lb. turkey and cooked the turkey and trimmings the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We felt so smart about having leftovers BEFORE thanksgiving. (Are they called “left-befores” when this happens?)

I washed and salted the turkey while Joseph went next door and borrowed a a stick of butter from our neighbor. We have a family recipe for cooking called “Turkey in a Bag” that makes the most perfect roast turkey you’ve ever had, and remarkably easy, too. No basting. It’s a winner. You can cook up to 20 lbs. of turkey in three hours. And as our family knows, it’s always perfect.

The first part of the recipe is buttering the paper bag with grease (any oil will do) so it doesn’t stick to the turkey or catch on fire in the oven. Joseph buttered the bag as I stuffed the turkey.

When I finished he held the bag wide open while I slid the turkey in and we stapled it shut. (No, we did not make this up. That’s what the recipe says to do.) We carefully carried the en-bagged turkey in its pan, opened the door to our 450 degree heated oven and placed it inside. Then we checked the clock.

The recipe gives very specific instructions that once you put the turkey in the oven, under NO circumstances are you to open the oven door until it’s done.

A few minutes later Joseph hesitantly said, “Is it okay that smoke is coming out of the oven?”

We stared at the stove for two full seconds while reviewing previous turkey in a bag cooking experiences but neither of us could remember little puffs of smoke being part of it.

We had a brief psychic struggle with the part of the directions that absolutely forbids opening the oven door for three hours, but curiosity prevailed. We opened the door and saw the turkey rapidly flambeing itself in what was left of the bag.

We batted at the flames with the potholders which made charred scraps of burnt paper fly all over the kitchen. Joseph threw on the oven mitts and he quickly and gracelessly lifted the pan out of the oven while I ran ahead opening doors to the outdoors.

He slid the burning turkey in its pan on the concrete steps outside our front door. We stepped back to marvel at how remarkably high flames from a little grocery bag could go. It was quite a sight for our neighbors to see, which they all did and with much fanfare, hooting and hollering and making loud commentary about the “little woman’s cooking prowess.” Giant two foot high dancing flames spit and sizzled.

By the time the flames died down the turkey was a lovely golden brown. Unfortunately it had only cooked for a little over four minutes. It looked just beautiful, but it WAS completely raw underneath the lovely golden skin.

So we brought the turkey back inside and rinsed all the little charred pieces of grocery bag off it. Joseph greased up another grocery bag, this time making sure that he also greased the OUTSIDE of the bag, not just the inside.

To his credit, the recipe didn’t SPECIFICALLY say to grease the outside of the bag, it just said “grease the bag.” Who would think that meant inside AND out?

Somewhere back in our memories we recalled an old Ray Bradbury movie about book-burning titled “Fahrenheit 451” and remembered the movie’s name came from the temperature at which paper burns. We weren’t cooking at 451 though. We distinctly had set the oven at 450 degrees.

We thought, though, precise as we were, perhaps we MIGHT have set the dial just a degree or two higher than 450. Not sure, but possible.

As a safeguard, before we put the turkey back into the oven, we moved the shelf down to the very bottom rather than to the almost-bottom. This conveniently left a full three inches above the turkey rather than the scant half inch we had the first time.

Anyway, the turkey sizzled without incident for the next three hours, giving us plenty of time to air the smoke out of the house and sweep up charred paper from EVERYWHERE. Sweeping floating ash is a task without no single solution. We used a combination of broom (floor), damp sponge (curtains), and vacuum cleaner hose held in mid-air. Over the next hour we did get MOST of it.

The turkey cooked.

Our cats complained loudly that someone was in the oven hissing. They told us they don’t like other animals in their house, especially ones that hiss. We tried to tell them it was a bird in the oven but they never believed us for a minute and told us birds don’t hiss, they chirp.

While it cooked we made mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, baked squash, chunky cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, baked carrots and homemade gravy from the drippings. And pie, a family staple that goes with everything.

We had our turkey dinner Tuesday. Then Joseph cooked up the “left-befores” for brunch on Wednesday. We had more for lunch and for dinner Wednesday night. Then we had a little more of all of it for breakfast Thursday morning. By about noontime Thursday we’d pretty much had our fill of turkey dinner with fixings and the idea of driving an hour away to someone’s house to eat more of it sounded, well, not very appetizing.

So we phoned our regrets, put on our hiking boots and went out for a walk in the wet Washington woods.

If you want to try the recipe for “Turkey in a Bag,” please do. If you remember to grease BOTH sides of the bag AND don’t let the bag touch the upper burner coils when it’s cooking, it’s a pretty foolproof recipe.

1 turkey (up to 20 lbs. Cooking time is not dependent on weight of turkey)
1 plain brown paper bag (preferably without printing)
1 stick of butter or a cup of any greasy stuff
Cooking rack and deep turkey pan

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.
Grease the bag inside and out.
Stuff your turkey.
Put the turkey inside the bag.
Fold the top over and staple the bag securely shut.
Put the brown-bagged turkey on a
cooking rack in the pan.
Place the turkey and pan inside the oven.
Do this quickly so you don’t lose any heat.
Be sure the top of the bag doesn’t touch
the top oven coils.
Cook at 450 degrees for ninety minutes.
Turn temperature down to 350 degrees and
cook for ninety minutes more. DO NOT
open the oven during the cooking.

Yum! It will be the best turkey you ever made, we promise.

Jacqueline & Joseph
Friendly Haven Rise Farm