Appetizers
November 22, 2006
Tradition in Transition

In 24 hours, I expect to know if a new Thanksgiving tradition has taken hold in our family or if I've only had a nice ride in the country. Shortly after dawn this morning I set out to get the holiday turkey, heading into the Sierra foothills feeling like a hunter on the prowl. I paused at Rancho Murieta, remembering the flock of wild turkeys I'd seen there a year or so ago, but pressed on to Jackson.

There, at Swingle Meat Co., I found the turkey for our table tomorrow. Swingle Meat Co., which puts up scores of specialty meats, from all kinds of seasoned steaks and ribs to housemade sausages and housecured bacon, is a candy store for carnivores. I didn't get out of the place without also buying some bacon, jerky and frozen ravioli, quite possibly the only vegetarian item in the place. During a stop there a few weeks ago a persuasive clerk sold us on ordering our Thanksgiving turkey, a fresh, organic bird already brined and stuffed.

This shortcut way to prepare the year's grandest meal is a trend I suspect is here to stay. This year more than in the past I've seen all sorts of articles and ads aimed at helping cooks cut down on the time they spend cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. On the drive to Jackson I heard on NPR's Morning Report several more ways to speed up the cooking and serving of the banquet, including a way to butterfly the turkey and even a no-bake pumpkin pie, the recipe for which you can find here.

I have some qualms about all this, fretting that prepared supermarket side dishes and butcher-shop turkeys already gussied up for the oven could diminish the skill and affection associated with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. On the other hand, if cooks are less stressed, able to focus more keenly on a signature dish or two, and get to the table in a more relaxed and convivial mood, the holiday actually could be better for it. At any rate, I'm sure looking forward to that turkey, and not feeling at all guilty about not doing the usual brining myself.

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