Posted Nov 19, 2010
While come Thanksgiving Day it will seem like the whole country is eating turkey, Sonya Tardif plans to tuck in to a nice slice of buzzard.
It’s a decades-old family recipe (and she was kind enough to share).
“You say, ‘We’re having buzzard,’ and they give you a look, ‘I don’t want to eat that,’” said the South Paris woman, chuckling.
But before you look skyward, she’s quick to confess: Fifty or so years ago, the family dish was better known as Gluten Roast. Not quite the same ring.
“My grandfather kind of jokingly named it ‘The Buzzard’ because it’s what we eat instead of turkey,” Tardif said.
She’s a fourth-generation vegetarian; her great-grandparents decided in their 20s to kick meat. Anything-but-turkey has been on their table at Thanksgiving for a long, long while. While she’s clearly outnumbered — the U.S. is poised to make meals of 242 million turkeys in 2010, according to the Census Bureau — the Tardifs are far from alone in giving turkey the bird on the most American of holidays next week.
“Last year we had lobsturkey” — lobster fleetingly decorated with turkey feathers — “steamers, fiddleheads we’d picked and frozen in the spring, and blueberry pie from berries we picked,” said Nancy Townsend Johnson of Dixfield. “So much better than plain old turkey! We plan to do the same this year.”
It was the first year of the new tradition: “It happened that it was just my husband and myself for Thanksgiving so we decided to go with something different.”
Jym St. Pierre in Readfield said he can trace the last time he ate red or white meat to Thanksgiving Day 1978.
“After reading ‘Diet for a Small Planet’ and getting a Big Mac heartburn attack too many times, I became a fishitarian,” he said. “I do not proselytize about it. Others can eat as they wish. And I do not respect fowl more than ungulates or flora. But, as a bumper sticker I used to have said, ‘Turkeys give thanks for vegetarians.’”
His family’s Thanksgiving centerpiece varies. It’s sometimes lobster, fish or souffle.
“I think we got in this groove in the country where Thanksgiving became the day you had to eat too much turkey and you had to watch the ballgame,” St. Pierre said.
No pigskin and no nap for his crew either — they go for a walk after dinner.
For Gretchen Heldmann, Thanksgiving is all about duck.
Duck gravy. Duck with sauerkraut.
It’s a tradition that goes back at least three generations in her family.
“As a kid I really liked duck more than turkey,” she said.
There is an intimidation factor about cooking duck, and it takes a bit of culinary vigilance, but the Eddington woman was willing to offer a beginners’ primer (see her tip box).
Turkey tradition ‘sort of stuck’
Back in the 1620s, turkey “certainly wasn’t the only protein that was on the table,” said Tori Jackson, an educator for agriculture and natural resources at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties. “Lobster, fish, game birds and deer were also really early entries.”
“Turkey became associated with Thanksgiving because it was available, it was here,” Jackson said. “It just sort of stuck.”
She hasn’t fielded calls asking for turkey alternatives this season (closer to the holiday itself, she will get asked about cooking, and will point callers toward the Butterball hotline). Jackson does, though, have advice if you want to make like a pilgrim:
“To really be authentic . . . find something that is closest to you.”
Tardif said her family usually numbers between 14 and 18 at Thanksgiving dinner where they serve The Buzzard with the works: mashed potatoes, coleslaw, squash, cranberry sauce. Making the main dish is a two- to three-day process (see recipe) the includes peanut butter, stuffing and a burnt-flour gravy marinade.
“It tastes really good,” she said.
Of course, there’s no comparing it to turkey — she’s never tried any, nor has her mother nor her mother’s mother — but friends tell her it compares to meat nicely. “A lot of people don’t really seem to want to make it, but they want us to make extra.”
A quick beginners’ how-to for cooking duck, as described by reader Gretchen Heldmann:
* Shop either a local farm or store like Hannaford. If going to the grocery store, you’ll find packets of orange sauce and giblets inside.
“The orange sauce just goes right in the garbage,” she said.
Boil the giblets for a broth to add to the gravy.
* Rinse the duck and rub inside and out with sea salt and caraway seeds.
* Pop in a roaster pan with a rack inside so that the duck isn’t directly resting on the bottom of the pan; it needs room to drip.
* Put in the oven for three to four hours at 350 degrees, BUT stick around: You’ll need to poke the duck with a fork, all over, every 20 to 30 minutes to drain the fat.
* Remove the duck when the skin is golden brown, let it rest on a cutting board and tip it one last time to drain.
* Put the roaster pan on a stove burner on medium heat. Add the giblet broth (but not the giblets. Those, she said, can go to the cat.). Stir for gravy, adding cornstarch and cold water to taste.
* One duck should feed four.
Gluten Roast (aka The Buzzard)
From reader Sonya Tardif
She recommends using a three-day process with one step each day
First: Make the gluten
3 cups cold water
3.5 quarts of bread flour
Kneed dough thoroughly till smooth, then put the dough into cold water and let it stand one-half hour. Kneed again with your hands, in water, washing the starch out. As the water becomes milky, pour it off through a strainer so as not to lose any of the dough. Continue to add water, work dough, and pour off the water till the water remains clear. You then have a lump of gluten. Refrigerate the gluten if you are making this over a two-or three-day period.
Step 2: Make the nut meat
1-3/4 cups wet gluten (from Step 1)
4 tablespoons gluten flour (also sometimes called vital wheat gluten)
1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup cold water
2 teaspoons salt
Spread two tablespoons of the gluten flour in a small metal baking pan and brown in the oven to a dark brown, stirring it occasionally, so that it will brown evenly. In another bowl, stir the cold water into the peanut butter. Add the salt, the two tablespoons of browned gluten flour and two tablespoons of unbrowned gluten flour, then combine this mixture with the wet gluten. This may seem an impossible task, but it can be done by perseveringly working at it with the hands.
When a homogeneous mass is obtained, put it into a tin can (any tin can will do, but Sonya’s family often uses a large tomato juice can) cover it with aluminum foil, put it upright in a large pot and add enough water to steam/boil it for three hours or longer. (Don’t put in so much water that it will get under the aluminum foil and into the can as it boils.) Cooking longer than three hours is better to give the desired flavor. Make sure the boiling water is hot enough to keep moving. Refrigerate if you are not moving right on to Step 3.
Step 3: Make the bread dressing and create The Buzzard
1 pint soft bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup butter substitute, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon summer savory
1 teaspoon sage
Combine all the above ingredients in a bowl, with sufficient water to make the mixture moist enough to stick together.
Then, in a baking pan arrange slices of nut meat with a layer of bread dressing between them, making a log shape. Dissolve two teaspoons of Vegex or Marmite or similar vegetable extract in two cups of hot water. Add one tablespoon butter substitute. Thicken with browned flour (made the same way as in Step 2). Pour this over the nut-dressing log. Bake slowly for about a half-hour or longer at 350 degrees — the longer the crispier — occasionally spooning the liquid in the pan over the log. The liquid remaining after the baking can be used as gravy.
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Copyright © 2010, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
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