Roasting a turkey … 1860-style

For 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.

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.

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.

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!” 

Published on Feb 15, 2012

Grit Magazine

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