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There is a quotation by Albert Einstein tacked up in my work cubicle. He was a genius when it comes to capillary forces, general relativity, matter-energy equivalence and how light from another star can be bent by the sun’s gravity.
It isn’t Einstein’s ability to comprehend atomic vibrations, wave-point duality and critical opalescence that I respect. Gosh, I have trouble just spelling Brownian motion and thermodynamic fluctuations, much less discerning what all of that means.
However, this much I do understand, which is where Einstein’s quote comes in; “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” he said.
That rule really applies to learning new kitchen skills, especially the latest cooking techniques.
It’s a personal preference, but I’d rather talk face to face with local experts rather than get advice from a cooking show on one of the television food networks.
That’s why I went to see the 23 students in Stephanie Rollings’ kindergarten class at Buford Elementary School.
When I told them I needed their help in cooking a turkey, they were more than willing (and able) to help make sure that a succulent, golden-brown, flawlessly-cooked turkey makes it to our table on Thursday.
It’s a given that every family has traditional techniques for prepping the perfect bird on Thanksgiving Day. Although Jonah Young refused to give up the secret family turkey recipe, he said I should phone his mom, Mariah, if I get confused.
Jonah, the trouble is, I’m already lost.
I can’t figure out where Mr. John lives. I do know his farm is in the eastern part of Lancaster County. It seems that Mr. John grows the best turkeys around, said Alyssa Richards, 5.
“It’s easy to find,” Alyssa said. “It’s on a dirt road.”
I spent a good portion of Saturday morning asking my neighbors about Mr. John’s farm but came up empty. All I got from my friends was vacant, dumbfounded looks. No wonder their Thanksgiving turkeys are bland. They don’t get them from Mr. John’s farm.
Serves them right.
But that’s OK. Matthew David Blackmon had another option. Smart as a whip (Einstein would be proud), Matthew noticed a common thread among his classmates.
“A lot of people are 5 (years old),” he said. “They got a lot of turkeys inside the Bilo’s.”
That I can find. Unlike Mr. John’s farm, I know where both Bilo’s are.
Jacob Collins said once I find a turkey, I can just look at the size to see how much it weighs.
While most foodies recommend about one-pound of bone-in turkey per guest, Hunter Fairfax has a better suggestion for figuring out what size turkey to buy.
“You need a real big one that weighs at least 40-feet pounds,” Hunter said, as he made a big oval by raising his hands over his head.
“You put it in the oven,” Nicolas Warsups chimed in. “The oven is where the bottom is.”
OK, but at 40-feet pounds, what should I do if the turkey won’t fit?
“You take it out and get a bigger oven to put it in,” Nicolas said.
After that, I really started paying attention. These future chefs really knew what they were talking about.
Rollings said without a doubt, I had come to the right place. My rocking chair was indeed surrounded by turkey brilliance.
“I think they would be great little helpers in the kitchen,” she said. I had no doubts that she was right.
When choosing a turkey, Lanie Cauthen issued a stern reminder not to get to0 far ahead.
“Get one that doesn’t say gobble-gobble,” she said. “And you can’t eat the feathers, you gotta chop ’em off first.”
You know, there is a little more to cooking a turkey than I originally thought.
Nicolas reminded me to base the cooking time on the size of the turkey. While the USDA recommends about 2.5 to 3.5 hours of cooking time for a 12-pound turkey, Nicolas said that won’t work for a 40-feet-pound turkey.
Keenan Ashley said it should cook at least 350 seconds. Kamryn Ingram suggested that I open the oven to check it after 200 seconds.
“It will be brown when it’s done,” Kamryn said.
“If you cook it until it’s black, you don’t like it,” Hunter said.
Rather than depending on his eyes, Joshua Baker uses his ears to tell when the turkey is ready.
“It’s done when it makes a beeping sound,” Joshua said.
The rest of Thursday’s menu is a snap.
Rollings’ class came to the consensus that corn, ham, “punkin pie,” slaw and apple pie should be included in the holiday meal.
You know, I wonder if Mr. John grows hams, too.
I really gotta find out where that dirt road is.
– Greg Summers is features editor of The Lancaster News.