Turkey & Much More

I wanted to share mom’s thoughts about cooking the turkey. Everyone who has had the pleasure of knowing her knows that her “love language” is food–finding the best, exploring new recipes, cooking exquisitely and presenting it beautifully. Here are her words:

As a child, Thanksgiving was ‘that holiday that signaled the magic of Christmas was coming soon’ but as I have ‘aged,’ Thanksgiving has become the most special time for reflecting and taking time to be truly appreciative of the blessings I enjoy.


Since Si and I married (50 years ago this past August), most Thanksgivings have been celebrated with family, immediate and expanded, around our dining table. Si’s parents would come from Houston and mine from Sulphur Springs. Siblings, cousins and good friends were more often around the table than not.


The most notable exception was 50 years ago – our first Thanksgiving. We were going to my parents and I said ‘let me bring the turkey’.


As only a confident newlywed can be, I was basking in its loveliness as I proudly sat it on the table. After the blessing (before it was carved), I indignantly remarked “This turkey had no giblets. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a turkey without giblets before”. (Admittedly, this was the first turkey I had ever been totally responsible for!)  Well, the turkey DID have giblets. Mother found them inside the turkey as it was being carved. My face was red.


That was the last time that ever happened and I suspect between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have prepared over 90 turkey dinners!


Through the years, my turkey preparation has changed. I now ‘brine’.  Many years ago Si & I were in Laredo to do camp movies in early November and heard a Martha Stewart program about brining, with Jack Daniels included in the brine. Those who knew Si can imagine that caught his attention!


My brine has evolved from the first experiment into one Jeeper and Dick (Howell, who is the official family carver) approve.  I do not stuff the turkey, but cook the cornbread dressing separately and I always cook the turkey breast down until the last 30 minutes or so, as I think it is much juicer. We carve before dinner so if the breast has a few ridges the world does not end: we are more interested in taste than presentation, I guess!


Our family had an early Thanksgiving, so this was the 2015 Brine-


Brine (for 15-22 # fresh turkey)


Dissolve 1 ½ cups Kosher Salt (if you like a salty taste, use 2 cups)

1 cup sugar in water (I heat about a quart and stir until all is totally dissolved)

Add     2-3 Tbls. Whole peppercorns

2-6 whole cloves

4-6 bay leafs

I also picked 3-4 sprigs of fresh marjoram, thyme, oregano and sage and added

Add     1-2 cups bourbon (cheap! As Si said “don’t waste Jack Daniels Black”)


This year I also added the peels of 6 oranges and 2 lemons. I think creativity is the secret here! Add things you and your family like! Stir well!


When water has cooled, put whole turkey breast down in large container and pour brine over it, adding water to cover. Cover and keep refrigerated for 24 hours or so. Remove from brine, rinse and dry. I rubbed good olive oil over it before placing it breast down in the roaster. Cook at 300 degrees for 4-5 hours, checking thigh temperature after 4 hours. Some cook faster than others! The brining process seems to make them cook more quickly. (This year I had a 19 # turkey and it was done in 4 hours). Let rest at least 20 minutes before carving and enjoy!


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! When I thank the good Lord for all my blessings, Camp Stewart friends and families are near the top of the list!



Kathy Ragsdale, Camp Stewart Matriarch

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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