Turkey Civil War Style

roast turkeyWhile soldiers in the field were waiting for their turkeys to arrive packed in crates filled with straw and kept cold, hopefully, by winter weather, at home women were preparing to roast their turkeys. Roasting a turkey in the 1800s meant cooking it on a spit inside a tin oven. Catherine Esther Beecher in her 1859 Supplement to her Treatise on Domestic Economy suggested the following preparation for roasting meat and fowl [pp. 43-47].


General Remarks.

Be sure you have your spit and tin oven very clean and bright, and for this end wash tin oven turkey roastthem, if possible, before they get cold. If they stand, pour boiling water on to them. Have a fire so large as to extend half a foot beyond the roaster each side. When meat is thin and tender, have a small, brisk fire. When your meat is large, and requires long roasting, have large solid wood, kindled with charcoal and small sticks. Set the meat, at first, some distance from the place where it is to roast, so as to have it heat through gradually, and then move it up to roast.

Slow roasting, especially at first, and still more for large pieces, is very important. Allow about fifteen minutes for each pound of most kinds of meat, and if it is cold weather, or the meat fresh killed, more time is required, probably twenty minutes for each pound. When the meat is nearly done, stir up the fire to brown it. The meat should be basted a good deal, especially the first part of the time. Let meat be spitted so as to be equally balanced. When the meat is nearly done, the steam from it will be drawn toward the fire.

A pale brown is the proper color for a roast. Some dredge on flour and baste a short time before roasted meats are done. Whenever fresh lard is used instead of butter, in the dripping-pan, or to rub on meats, more salt must be used.

Flour thickening in gravies must be wet up with very little water till the lumps are out, and then made thin. Never dredge flour into gravies, as it makes lumps. Strain all gravies.

Her specific directions for turkey were: Wash the outside and inside very clean. Take bread crumbs, grated or chopped, about enough to fill the turkey, chop a bit of salt pork, the size of a good egg, and mix it in, with butter, the size of an egg, pepper, salt, and sweet herbs to your taste. Then beat up an egg and work in. Fill the crop and the body, sew them up, and tie the legs and wings, and spit them. Set it where it will gradually heat, and turn it once or twice, while heating, for fifteen minutes. Then put it up to the fire, and allow about twenty-five minutes for each pound. Turkey must be cooked very thoroughly. It must roast slowly at first, and be often basted with butter on a fork. Dredge it with flour just before taking it up, and let it brown.

Here is another description of cooking turkey in a tin oven taken from Chanticleer: A Thanksgiving Story by Cornelius Matthews, 1850.

Mopsey labored with equal zeal at home to have it worthy of enjoyment. At an early hour she had cleared decks, and taken possession of the kitchen: kindling, with dawn, a great fire in the oven for the pies, and another on the hearth for the turkey. But it was from the oven, heaping it to the top with fresh relays of dry wood, that she expected the Thanksgiving angel to walk in all his beauty and majesty. In performance of her duty, and from a sense only that there could be no thanksgiving without a turkey, she planted the tin oven on the hearth, spitted the gobbler, and from time to time, merely as a matter of absolute necessity, gave it a turn; but about the mouth of the great oven she hovered constantly, like a spirit—had her head in and out at the opening every other minute…p. 103.

And finally in 1870 when coal stoves were replacing open fires, Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe still advised using a tin oven for roasting that turkey:

Another useful appendage is a common tin oven, in which roasting can be done in front of the stove, the oven doors being removed for the purpose. The roast will be as done as perfectly as by an open fire. [Principles of Domestic Science as Applied to Duties and Pleaasures of Home.]

Sounds yummy.

Anyone cooking their turkey this way on Thanksgiving?


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