I hosted Thanksgiving in Erzurum this year! The Fulbright Commission helped us secure two turkeys and a restaurant, Güzelyurt, in which to cook them. Last year in Erzurum, a colleague of mine helped me find a turkey, but when we’d acquired him, he was still alive. It was a messy process to watch him die and see his transformation from life to the center of a Thanksgiving feast. For more, you can read Hank Hindi’s story. As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to be supplied with dead, plucked, de-organed turkeys.
I arrived at Güzelyurt mid-morning the Saturday after Thanksgiving to start cooking. The cooks there helped me stuff the turkeys and insisted on sewing them back together with needle and thread. The concept of stuffing a turkey made a lot of sense to them, there are a lot of stuffed foods in Turkey. Poultry seasoning is uniquely American however and caused widespread interest amongst the cooks and the owner.
Then came the oven: it was the size of my apartment’s kitchen! It was an old-style oven with no temperature gauge that still burns wood. As I continued to check on the turkeys, one of the cooks would pull out the pans of turkey barehanded! He had hands like oven mitts. We talked and joked in broken Turkish.
When the turkeys finished cooking around four hours later, I made gravy. The cook nearly poured the half gallon of gravy over the turkeys, I stopped him just in time. The turkeys were lovingly wrapped up in paper and nearly a full roll of packing tape, and then transported by taxi back to my apartment and guests.
Ten Americans and fifteen of my Turkish friends and colleagues enjoyed these turkeys along with a range of side dishes and desserts: from mashed potatoes to çiğ köfte; pumpkin pie to baklava. Tom, a Fulbrighter in Bayburt, offered to carve a turkey. One of his Turkish friends Mutlu came into the kitchen and was laughing about how Tom was doing a woman’s work. I explained that it was traditional for the woman to cook the turkey and the man to carve the turkey. Mutlu jumped at the opportunity to take part in this tradition and offered to carve the second turkey. He spent nearly an hour happily carving a turkey perfectly. Thanksgiving was a joyous event this year, surrounded by my dearest Turkish and American friends.