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The Thompson Turkey

The Thompson Turkey is a creature of myth – a reductio ad absurdum of Thanksgiving cooking. Thompson, if my usually unreliable memory has not failed again, was an American newsman of the hard-fisted drinking tradition. Indeed legend has it that he was not sober when he developed the recipe. The story of the turkey and its recipe were spread by fellow journalists of similar ilk.

You will not find the recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook; in fact, you will be hard pressed to find it at all. This is not surprising. It is not the sort of recipe that is devised by a chef. No, it is the sort of thing created by a man cooking, a man who cooks not at all save for very special occasions when he creates insanely complicated concoctions. Cookbooks are created for people who cook every day and not for lunatics who cook once a year.

It is, however, very good. I have never prepared a Thompson Turkey but I have eaten it. Legend has it that it is an incredible delight, rich in tantalizing, complex flavors. Legend is right. At least once in your life you too should treat yourself to the Thompson Turkey.

Note: I lost my copy of the recipe. Joe Gaucher produced the copy which appears here. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and I am deeply indebted to him.

In 2010 there are numerous copies of the recipe on the web, not all of them are faithful to the original recipe. There are at least two cookbooks that have the recipe, The Berton Family Cookbook and The Haphazard Gourmet.


The Turkey

18 to 22 pound turkey, giblets and fat removed and reserved, rinsed and patted dry.
Oil to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

The Gravy

Giblets (neck, liver and heart)
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

The Dressing, bowl 1

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 orange, peeled and diced
20-ounce can crushed pineapple
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
10-ounce can water chestnuts, drained
3 tablespoons chopped preserved ginger

The Dressing, bowl 2

2 teaspoons Colman’s mustard
2 teaspoons caraway seed
1 tablespoon celery seed
2 teaspoons poppy seed
2 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1 large bay leaf, crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 cup minced parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cloves, minus the heads, well chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 large onions, medium chopped
6 celery stalks, medium chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh savory, preferably summer
1 tablespoon each minced fresh thyme and sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt

The Dressing, bowl 3

1 1/2 pounds fresh bread crumbs
3/4 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground fresh pork
1/4 pound butter

For the paste:

12 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of Colman’s mustard
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons onion juice
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 teaspoon Cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, or enough to make a paste
3 cups cider
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. or as high as it will go — for at least 1 hour.

Chop fine the reserved turkey fat. In a small saucepan set over moderate heat combine the reserved fat with 1/2 cup of the water, bring to a boil and simmer until all the water has evaporated and only clear fat and small pieces of solid remain. Reserve fat for stuffing.

Season the inside of the turkey with salt and pepper. Rub the skin all over with the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Make the gravy: In a saucepan set over moderate heat combine ingredients for the gravy, bring to a boil and simmer while preparing the dressing.

Make the dressing: prepare and combine ingredients in bowl no. 1; prepare and combine ingredients from bowl no. 2; and prepare and combine ingredients from bowl no. 3. In a large bowl combine ingredients from all three bowls. Mix it well. “Mix it with your hands. Mix it until your forearms and wrists ache. Then mix it some more. Now toss it enough so that it isn’t any longer a doughy mass.”

Loosely stuff the turkey. Stuff the neck cavity and sew closed the openings. Tie legs together.

Make the paste: combine all ingredients for paste in a bowl, adding enough flour to form a thick paste.

Arrange turkey breast side down on a rack wrapped in foil sitting in a shallow roasting pan. Brush foil with oil.

Put the turkey in the oven and roast it for 15 minutes, or until browned. Turn it breast side up and roast for 15 minutes more. With a pastry or paint brush coat the turkey completely with the paste — in every nook and cranny. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To simmering gravy add cider and water. Remove from heat but keep warm on top of stove. (This is your basting liquid.) Roast the bird, basting it frequently, (the original recipe says every 15 minutes) for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, or until an instant meat thermometer reads 180 to 185 in the thigh; 170 in the breast and 160 in the stuffing.

Let rest 15 to 20 minutes, before peeling away crust.

In 1997 I could only find one other reference to the Morton Thompson turkey on the web in a Food and Drink Column of the Weekly Eye, a Toronto free newspaper. In 2010 there are numerous copies, not all of them faithful to the original recipe. The Berton Family Cookbook contains the recipe. I

This page was last updated December 11, 2010.