Sometimes a favorite Thanksgiving memory isn’t of a perfectly roasted bird or magnificent spread of pies. As we learned from some of our favorite chefs, writers and Milk Street Radio guests, tales of oven fires, scheming siblings and frozen turkeys can become legendary holiday stories told with laughter or transformed into valuable culinary lessons.
So if your turkey ends up on the floor or doesn’t make the table at all, take comfort knowing that these mishaps befall even the most seasoned food professionals. They might also remind you what truly matters this time of year.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is also my earliest. In fact, I'm not even sure if it's something I actually remember or if it's just a story we've told so many times as a family that I internalized it. I was five years old and my sister Jane, who's two years older and always a bit of a prankster, turned down the oven knob to 100 degrees Fahrenheit while that turkey was roasting. My parents didn't notice until they took the turkey out of the oven thinking it was done and it was still raw. So, we did not have turkey that year.
New York Times correspondent
Stock is the lifeblood of Thanksgiving. There was one year when my sister-in-law saw my stock pot simmering away for hours and decided that the bones sticking up looked kind of awful. So just when I thought my stock was perfect and went back to check on it, I found out that she had filled the pot back up to the top with water. It was a real heartbreak, and obviously I still haven't gotten over it
One year, we decided to be really extravagant and bring wagyu ribeye to the mix of food we were making. I went to go check on the wagyu roast, which was put in the oven earlier in the morning. It didn't look quite ready, so I decided to turn the heat up. I got a little bit distracted entertaining, pouring some champagne and drinking along with everybody. Then suddenly when I looked at the oven and opened the door, the wagyu roast was on fire. It was still delicious, though. It was the best thing I ever had.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother got very tired of the three of us kids complaining that we didn't want green beans or sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. She decided to get Boboli pizza shells, set out all the toppings and let us make our own pizza dinner for Thanksgiving. The three of us kids thought was pretty cool, but my father didn't. We had to have our regular Thanksgiving dinner the weekend after.
I never celebrated Thanksgiving because I grew up in the Philippines, but my first Thanksgiving was special because it was with a bunch of us who were pretty much all immigrants and wanted to have our own version of Thanksgiving. That turned out to be a wonderful disaster. My friend brought a frozen turkey and we didn't know how long it was going to take to thaw out. We had to rush to thaw it, so we had to put it in a massive sink and massage it.
I'm an adventurous eater, but it hasn't always been that way––especially at my first Thanksgiving. The family story goes that I was the model 10 month old baby at the table that day. Perched in my highchair, I happily accepted bites of all the soft mushy foods my mother offered me. That is, until she got to the mashed turnips. My body recoiled in disgust. I leaned forward and threw up all over the beautiful Thanksgiving table. Nothing on the table was deemed edible. Thanksgiving was ruined. Despite my awkward first encounter, to this day, Thanksgiving is not complete without a heaping mound of mashed turnips on my plate.
My friend invited me over for Thanksgiving and when we went into the kitchen to put the turkey on the platter, the turkey fell onto the floor and slid for about two feet. We panicked for a moment but we didn't scream. The turkey went on the platter and came out looking very elegant. I realize how important it is to just be calm in that panic.
I am thankful to have learned a few lessons about Thanksgiving, like staying in your own lane. My sister is a wonderful baker and I am usually in charge of making the meat of the meal. The year we switched roles, the house got an unusual odor. My sister had forgotten to take the plastic bag of the innards and the neck out of the cavity of the bird.
These excerpts have been edited for clarity.
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