We raised three turkeys one year out in a little pen attached to a building we called a woodshed. They were happy, although sometimes loud, and they got HUGE – mostly on corn and watermelon – before we were ready to butcher them. When it came time to butcher, one of my son’s young friends asked to help, so my husband let him hold the feet of the forty pound turkey while he stretched out the neck on the chopping block.
All went well until the neck was severed and the sudden weight of the carcass made it impossible to hold. The huge body flopped and ran around for what seemed like an hour before stopping – and my son’s friend took off running, too, as far away as he could get! To this day, we talk about the big turkey that got away, and I’m sure that little boy, now grown, remembers it as well.
Whether you butcher your own or buy it plucked and oven ready or even stuffed and already baked, turkey is one of the cheaper meats available this time of the year. Don’t just settle for getting a good deal for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but think ahead to making very frugal meals from the leftovers. If you like turkey at all, it only makes sense to buy the biggest one you can handle while the price per pound is low.
If you REALLY like turkey, buy an extra one or two right now. There’s no sense in waiting until the price goes back up and then deciding you’d like a turkey breast or drumstick. You can cut (or have the butcher cut) a large turkey into quarters for easier preparation at other times of the year.
Whole or quartered turkeys keep very well in the freezer, but if you intend to cook a whole one in the oven later, do it before summer to avoid overheating the house during the long roasting time it takes to keep a turkey moist. Deep fried turkey is a summer treat, so keep that in mind as you look at sizes and prices now.
To make the most of a turkey, after the first great feast, and maybe a few meals of leftovers just as they are, slice the remaining meat into portions for sandwiches or to serve plain. After that, there is still a lot of meat left, so pick and pull all you can from it.
Separate the sizes and white and dark meat for different purposes. Small, scrappy pieces go in soup, larger pieces for casseroles, even larger for sandwiches or in gravy over mashed potatoes or bread. I find that it’s easier to mark each package “turkey for soup” or “turkey for casseroles” and so on, as I ready them for the freezer. Think about the way your family eats, and package the meat accordingly.
After you’ve picked and pulled all the meat you can, it’s time to boil the carcass. Put it in a pot large enough to cover with water completely and bring it to a boil, then set it to simmer for a couple of hours. The bones should separate from each other when you lift them from the broth and the meat should literally fall off. Put them on a platter and let them cool enough to work, then sort through them and pick out every small bit of meat you can get.
Meantime, turn the heat back up on the broth and let it boil down about half the volume, then cool. If you’re not ready for turkey soup yet, package it for the freezer either by itself, or after returning some of the meat picked from the bones. When you’re ready to use it, thaw and add vegetables, rice or whatever you like.
How many meals can you make from one turkey? Well, it depends on you and your family, but you should be able to make:
1. Sandwiches. Use larger pieces of turkey and cut them thinly, or make turkey sandwich spread by putting turkey, mayonnaise, pickles, onions, boiled eggs – whatever you prefer – in a food mill or blender and processing.
2. Casseroles. Turkey goes well with just about anything: Broccoli, rice, cheese, noodles, peas, celery, carrots, mushrooms, the list goes on…
3. Turkey pie. Make it like you would a chicken or beef pot pie, or shepherd’s pie. Crust, cooked vegetables, gravy or sauce and turkey…
4. Soup. There is such a great variety of turkey soup that I hesitate to even mention a few, but my favorite is with rice, celery, carrots and a little bouillon for more flavor.
5. Substitute turkey for chicken in recipes you already have. Chicken salad becomes turkey salad. Chicken ala king becomes turkey ala king. Turkey and noodles, turkey burritos…
There are so many recipes and ideas for using leftover turkey that it would be impossible to even list them here. A big roasted turkey is the basis of many inexpensive meals and if you only make ONE of each of these leftover recipes in the coming months, you’ll have saved a good bit of money.
With a larger than usual turkey, you’ll have leftovers for even more. More leftovers means more savings. Once a month cooking? How about once every four or five months?