The Woman With the Buona Forchetta

ALSO IN CONNECTICUT, I encountered the most unusual Thanksgiving turkey I have ever seen. It was served at Arthur Miller’s house, in Litchfield County. His wife, the photographer Inge Morath, was a vegetarian. She’d lived in France, where one year, she told me, she decided to surprise American friends who were celebrating Thanksgiving in Paris. She created a turkey pièce montée, built out of fruits and vegetables. She said she got the idea from looking at composite paintings of animals and birds.

Using a couple of loaves of bread as the base, she put goose feathers in the end of one of the loaves to form the turkey’s tail. She sliced off the end of a corn cob, stuck a toothpick in it and speared it in the other end of the loaf to make the neck. The head was made from a small eggplant nailed by toothpick to the corn; the wattles were large, dried red chili peppers. Quails’ eggs made a spine, and the bird’s chest puffed up nicely as red cabbage and radicchio leaves were pinned to the bread and hung with red grapes. The eyes were made from two slices of radish with raisins in the center.

She added apples, pears, stuffed vine leaves, cherry tomatoes, kumquats, dates, figs, prunes, broccoli, pieces of cheese, black and green grapes, niçoise olives and all manner of vegetables and fruit threaded on skewers or toothpicks like little shish kebabs. With the turkey, she served a selection of dips: bagna cauda, yogurt with fresh horseradish, dill vinaigrette and curry mayonnaise. Eating this, who’d miss the real thing?

 

THE TROUBLE WITH real turkeys, as anyone who has roasted one knows, is that they get dry. But then a newspaper article claimed that for optimum juiciness, turkeys were best roasted at 500 degrees. The Litchfield County Fire Department had the busiest day in its history that year as smoke alarms sprang into action. Deep-frying is supposed to work—done out of doors, of course—but I’ve yet to try it.

Brining, however, is foolproof. Almost. After soaking his 20-pounder overnight in a tub of salted water, stuffing and trussing it, a friend put the bird in the oven in the morning. “You don’t even have to baste it!”

The guests arrived by late afternoon and we sat around, stomachs rumbling, trying not to fill up on cheese and crackers. After an hour, he went to take the turkey out of the oven. He returned moments later, his face in a ferment. His wife, flustered with all the preparations, had meant to turn the oven up. Instead, she’d turned it off.

 
Moira Hodgson’s memoir,
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, will be published by Nan Talese/Doubleday in January.

mhodgson@observer.com.