Seattle Stories: Revisiting a Classic: The Thompson Turkey
One of my first memories of life in Seattle is reading a recipe for a Thompson Turkey, thanks to local beloved curmudgeon, Emmett Watson. a columnist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, or as everyone called it, the ‘Seattle PI‘ or just ‘the PI‘. I read Emmett’s 1974 column about the infamous bird, absolutely fascinated but also quite sure I would never be trying to make one myself. I’m not sure how many people actually made a Thompson Turkey, but I know everyone loved reading that recipe!
An internet search turned up many broken links and a lot of reprints of the recipe. Most of them give credit to Mr. Morton Thompson as the creator of it, so I will too. Here’s to you, Morton! Fun Fact: Morton Thompson was also an author. His novel, Not as a Stranger was adapted for a movie directed by Stanley Kramer.
I’d hoped to find an image of the Seattle PI newspaper article, since that is the source of my memories, but alas, no luck. I did notice that the Food Network shares the Thompson Turkey recipe and to my amusement, labeled it Level: Easy. Hah!
For my own future reference, and perhaps for your amusement and enlightenment, I’ll share the recipe just as I found it reprinted in a November 1, 2005 PI article about Emmett and the recipe. So many links have gone dead that I don’t want to simply link to that article without also preserving the recipe here.
Brace yourselves. Here comes Emmett Watson’s version of the Thompson Turkey, along with my own bit of AI-generated artwork made at Wombo:
“Every year the calls come: ‘You going to print that recipe again?’ — with variations: ‘I didn’t get around to trying it last year.’ Or: ‘I tried it and it was great.’ Or: ‘Last year it turned out awful, but I gotta try again.’ The recipe is, then, controversial. I do not guarantee your success. But with diligent work and good luck (I can testify to this) the Thompson Turkey can be a smasher.
Rub the bird inside and out with salt and pepper. In a stewpan put the chopped gizzard, liver, the neck and heart, to which add 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of paprika, a half teaspoon of coriander, a clove of garlic, 4 cups of water, and salt to taste. Let this simmer while you go ahead with the dressing.
“Dice 1 apple and 1 orange in a bowl and add to this bowl a large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 can of drained water chestnuts, and 3 tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger. (Editor’s note — cut drastically or eliminate ginger.)
“In another bowl, put 2 teaspoons of Colman’s (dry) mustard, 2 teaspoons caraway seed, 3 teaspoons celery seed, 2 teaspoons poppy seed, 2 1/2 teaspoons oregano, 1 well-crushed teaspoon of mace (Ed.’s note — I’d cut down or eliminate the mace completely), 4-5 finely minced cloves of garlic, 4 cloves (minus heads and well-chopped), 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 4 large well-chopped onions, 6 well-chopped stalks of celery, 1/2 teaspoon savory and 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning. Salt to taste.
“In another bowl, dump 3 packages of bread crumbs. Add 3/4 pound of ground veal and 1/4 pound of fresh pork, 1/4 pound of butter and all the fat (first rendered) you can pry loose from the turkey.
“Mix in each bowl the contents of each bowl. When each bowl is well-mixed, mix the 3 of them together. And mix well. Mix it until your forearms and wrists ache. Then mix it some more. Now toss it enough so that it isn’t any longer a doughy mess.
“Stuff your turkey, but not too full. Skewer the bird. Turn on your oven full force and let it get red hot. Put your bird breast down on a rack.
“In a cup, make a paste consisting of the yolks of 2 eggs, a teaspoon of Colman’s mustard, a clove of minced garlic, 1 tablespoons of onion juice, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and enough sifted flour to make a stiff paste. Take a pastry brush or an ordinary big paintbrush and stand by. (Ed.’s note — I’d increase the paste by half; you may need it.)
“Put your bird in the red-hot oven. Let it brown all over. Remove the turkey. Turn your oven down to 325 degrees. Now, while the turkey is sizzling hot, paint it all over with paste.
“Put it back in the oven. The paste will set in a few minutes. Drag it out again. Paint every nook and cranny of it once more. Put it back in the oven. Keep doing this until you haven’t any more paste left. To the giblet-neck-liver-heart gravy that has been simmering, add 1 cup of cider. Don’t let it cook any more. Stir it well. Keep it warm on top of the stove. This is your basting fluid.
“Baste the bird every 15 minutes! That means you will baste it from 12-15 times. Turn it on its back the last half hour. It ought to cook at least 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. When you remove it, the turkey will be dead black. You will think, ‘I’ve ruined it!’
“Be calm. Take a tweezer and pry loose the paste coating. It will come off readily. Beneath this burnt, harmless, now worthless shell, the bird will be golden and dark brown, succulent, giddy-making with wild aroma, crisp and crackling.
“The meat beneath will be wet, juice will spurt from it in tiny fountains high as the handle of the fork plunged into it. You do not have to be a carver to eat this turkey. Speak harshly to it and it will fall apart.”