Grit Blogs > Windy Meadows Farm

Roasting a turkey ... 1860-style

Mary Murray head shotFor many years, I've been a Tasha Tudor fan. There's just something about the simple lifestyle she lived, and so beautifully depicted in her enchanting watercolors, that has always appealed to me. And when it came to cooking, I was always intrigued by her roast turkey prepared in a tin kitchen, or reflector oven, in front of the fireplace.

I had never seen such a reflector oven for sale, so when one from 1860 came up for auction several years ago, I had to bid on it! A close inspection told me that it was obviously an important piece of cookware in someone's life. While tarnished from much use, it had also been well cared for ... I often wondered what stories it could tell.

And so, with great anticipation, I was ready to roast my own turkey. I had done my research, and with a recipe from "The Tasha Tudor Cookbook in hand, I began. First the turkey was rubbed with bacon drippings, then sprinkled with salt and pepper.  The spit from the tin kitchen was carefully inserted into the turkey, along with metal skewers which keep the turkey from sliding off the spit.

 oven in front of fire 

The oven was set in front of a fire, and in the photo below, you'll see several holes around the spit handle. These holes are used to secure the spit as it's turned to ensure the turkey will evenly cook.

close up of oven 

There's also a little door in the back of the oven to make it easy to baste the turkey, as well as to see how the roasting is coming along. You'll also notice a bowl on the left, that catches drippings from an overhead spout.

basting door 

After about 6 hours of roasting, and an all-over test with a meat thermometer, the turkey was done! I slid the spit out of the tin kitchen, removed it and the skewers, then placed the turkey on a large platter. Served with all the good things that go with a dinner like this ... fluffy mashed potatoes, buttery vegetables, tangy cranberry sauce, homemade bread, and glasses of icy milk, it was terrific. Roasting the turkey this way made such a difference in the taste!

Now, do I prepare a turkey this way all the time? No. Store-bought roasting bags and my trusty oven have always produced a turkey that's moist and delicious. However, two thoughts come to mind. One, roasting a turkey this way does free up the oven to bake rolls and pies, which, at least for us, is always a juggling act on Thanksgiving Day.

Two, should we have a power outage, it's important  to have the skills to provide meals for our family. A fireplace would not only keep us warm, but it allows us to prepare a turkey, chicken or roast in the tin kitchen. Our fireplace also has a crane inside so we can simmer stew or vegetables and bake bread in a Dutch oven.

And so, as we enjoyed a turkey dinner on a snowy February day, I have to agree ... as Tasha says, the taste is "simply unsurpassed!" 

12/28/2012 1:43:03 PM

I have just discovered you and christine Byrne and would like to know the name of her blog. I would like to find one of these ovens.

roland small
6/18/2012 1:38:22 PM

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mary murray
2/20/2012 2:26:49 AM

Thanks's fun to stumble on these old pieces and find them in good enough shape to use! I truly think I could travel back in time!

ronda pauley
2/17/2012 7:48:11 PM

What a great auction find! And the fact that you were actually able to put it to good use is so cool!

mary murray
2/17/2012 4:49:06 PM

Would you believe we don't have a gas grill either?! It would be easier I suppose, especially when the power's out and charcoal is nowhere to be found! And as far as dinner...I let my mom prepare the oyster stuffing and noodles...she's the expert! Once a year is just not often enough to enjoy them!

mary murray
2/17/2012 4:46:37 PM

Thanks so much was fun having dinner without the usual Thanksgiving Day pressures! I don't see a manufacturer on the bottom of the bowl, or I'd be happy to share...sorry. A cook stove would be great...our neighbors have one and love it. It has a terrific story behind's the same stove from the house our neighbor grew up in. He had the chance to buy it and didn't hesitate one bit...what memories to share!

mary murray
2/17/2012 4:44:57 PM

Christine, thanks for stopping by. I visit your blog and have to say, you're definitely on your way to living the Tasha Tudor lifestyle! Spinning, weaving...I just haven't seen any photos of you tending animals or your garden barefoot! For me, that's a little risky...just too much composting going on around here!

nebraska dave
2/17/2012 12:17:50 AM

Mary, that turkey looks simply delicious. Can I come to your house for Thanksgiving? :O) I kind of think that you are adding to the stories the tin reflector oven could tell. I thought about how I would cope with a long term power outage here in urban city. I have some wood stockpiled but only a fire ring to burn it. The only other option would be the charcoal grill. Yeah, I still haven't become a present century gas fired grill user yet. Survival in the city is a little more difficult than the country. Have a great day with country cooking.

christine byrne
2/16/2012 6:45:58 PM

I volunteer at a living history museum and also participate in civil war reenactments. I love to cook the old way and have several cook book of the era. In many ways it was simpler then, and I have to believe often healthier. I adore Tasha Tudor and would live just like her, if only these pesky relatives of mine would let me. LOL

lori dunn
2/15/2012 9:45:11 PM

That bird is lookin a very pretty, plump and pleasing color in that photo! I also love the bowl you have catching the drippings. It's very nice to know you have the means to cook these things in a power failure situation(something we encounter here in rural central PA on a regular basis). My husband and I want to put in an old fashioned cook stove in the next couple of years. I would rarely need to use my electric oven over the winter months if we did, and our home is such that we believe we could heat it with the cook stove alone. We have a wood stove in the basement that we use now that could work as backup for extreme cold situations. Also, having the extra cooking space for Thanksgiving rings true for me as well. I usually have 20 something people. It sure would be nice to have that extra oven space!