It was going to be a slightly different Thanksgiving meal that year. A family friend had given my mother a goose the week before after she found out that mom would be joining us for dinner. “Make the goose,” she had told my mother, “and you’ll never go back to turkey again for Thanksgiving. It’s that good.”
Mom told me about the gift. “I don’t know how to make a goose,” I said. “Is there a lot to it?” Mom explained that geese are fatty birds and that I’d need to take extra steps to remove the fat before cooking. “Other than that, the goose is all set to go,” she said as she handed me the wrapped bird.
Famous last words.
I opened the package and stared down at the fowl. Hmm. Something just didn’t look right. Reached down and pulled — yep — pinfeathers. WTHeck? I called my mom. “So, this bird…” I began…”this bird from your friend…all packaged and ready to go…did your friend say anything about the fact there were still pin feathers in it?”
“What?” my mom exclaimed. “Well, you can’t cook it like that! Those have to come out first!” I wanted to say, “No sh*t, Sherlock” but bit my tongue. “Yes, I figured that out all by myself,” I answered drolly. “What’s the best way to do that?” (realize that this was before the internet and YouTube)
After listening to her for a few minutes I realized that there really was no good way to do this, especially since the bird had been frozen with the pinfeathers before it got to us. I thought about taking a ham out of the freezer just in case…but pride and determination kicked in. Instead, I started to heat a big pot of water and headed off to find tweezers…
Yes, that’s right. Tweezers.
It was a epic failure. The bird was slippery and I couldn’t get a good hold while trying to pull out the darn feathers. Now, just to be clear, these weren’t the kind of invisible little ones that remind you of little hairs. These were the ones with white feather roots staring at you from their base inside the bird. How this ‘friend’ missed them, I’ll never know. Mr. Magoo, perhaps?
After more than an hour of trying, I gave up. It took ten minutes to get my hands degreased enough to dial my mom again. “This isn’t working. I think I’m going to have to skin the bird. That’s the only way I’ll be sure the feathers are all gone.” She ‘tsked tsked’ appropriately. We commiserated. I hung up and grabbed a knife.
Before I go on, I just want to confess that I always lost at the game “Operation”, even when I played as an adult against my kids. So, from the onset I probably should have known what was coming. But, there was that inherit determination (okay, at this point you can openly call it stubbornness) driving me…and in I went…literally. The bird was so greasy that within minutes my knife, handle and all, was slippery. All my attempts to carve off thin, even slices of skin were in vain. Instead, I gouged and gutted my way through and around the bird.
It was difficult and I was at wit’s end. By the time I finished, I was sweating and in tears and I wasn’t feeling thankful AT ALL. It was 10 p.m. and I’d started this debacle around 4-ish. I was tired and angry and just plan FINISHED. I walked away from the bird thinking, maybe I’ve just looked at it too long…maybe it wasn’t THAT bad…maybe I’m being too hard on myself.
My husband was working 2nd shift and came home a bit later. He walked in the front door with a smile and then saw the bird sitting on the counter. His face told me everything I needed to know – and I burst into tears all over again.
He grabbed me close and held me. “It’s okay,” he said as the saga spilled out of me. “It looks…well…it will be okay. We’ll eat it. It may not look great but I’m sure it will taste just fine.”
Famous last words.
By this time, I had prepared a ham and added that to the day’s bounty. So at least we had backup.
I was cooking the goose in my roaster and the ham in the oven along with the casseroles and other goodies. I was busy. I had put the debacle behind me and was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The table was set. Everything was going pretty well.
And then I took the lid off the roaster.
There, sticking out of the bird, were more pinfeathers. Too many to count! It looked like a gazillion of those turkey thermometer inserts – you know, the ones that pop out to tell you when the turkey is ready to eat – only these were white, wet and yes, somewhat stinky. I don’t know where they came from because I had hacked and carved away all the skin — or so I thought. But, there they were, defiantly staring at me. It was SO BAD. I burst into tears AGAIN – and my husband, mother and kids all came running.
“WOW, Mom, that looks really bad,” said one of my sons.
“It smells bad, too,” said the other one.
“We don’t have to eat that, do we?”
“I vote for ham!”
I was crying pretty hard by that time.
“Honey, I think we’re going to have to pass on the goose this year,” said my husband diplomatically. “Yes, I agree,” my mom chimed in. “The ham smells SO GOOD!”
I had worked so hard — for this?? “Don’t feel bad,” my husband said. “It’s not your fault. And it won’t go to waste. We’ll give it to the dogs – they’ll have their OWN Thanksgiving feast!”
I knew he was trying to buoy my spirits, but I grabbed onto that thought with gusto. At least it wouldn’t be a total failure. The Newfs would love it.
So, after we’d eaten our ham dinner and all the leftovers were all packed and put away, I attacked the bird for the final time to get it ready for the dogs. We made a celebration out of it, with the whole family taking it out to them. The kids told them, “Happy Thanksgiving!” as we gave them their ‘treat’. Bear, our oldest boy dog, smelled the meat, looked up at me and then gingerly picked up a piece and started lumbering to the back of their enclosure. ‘Good,’ I thought, ‘he’s going to settle down and eat it’. Instead I watched him proceed to dig a hole, drop the meat into it and cover it up completely.
Even the dogs knew it was a failure. I started crying again.
There probably aren’t a lot of people who can say they cooked a goose so badly even the dogs wouldn’t eat it…. but I can….
So, if your gravy is lumpy today, take heart — it could be worse… a lot worse.