**Jolana Malkston is taking Thanksgiving week off to visit her Firstborn and his family down south to enjoy a Thanksgiving family feast. While she’s away, she hopes you’ll enjoy revisiting one of her previous blog posts. Coincidentally, it’s about Thanksgiving.**
We should have stuck to turkey, but no, my mother-in-law and I had delusions of grandeur. We were going to cook up a Thanksgiving feast that no one in the family would ever forget. We succeeded beyond our expectations, but not in the way we envisioned.
At the time, Macho Guy and I were still young marrieds living down South. His family drove down to spend Thanksgiving with the two of us, and they brought along a small cooler filled with pheasant breasts. The guys are all hunters and they bagged their limit. They proudly laid their bounty before us.
Early Thanksgiving morning, I got the turkey out of the refrigerator and discovered it had hardly thawed. I hadn’t taken it out of the freezer soon enough. I panicked. We would not have turkey for Thanksgiving. No drumsticks. No wishbone. No stuffing. I was a dead woman.
Luckily for me, my mother-in-law came up with a positively brilliant idea. Let’s use the pheasant breasts instead. Hey, it sure sounded brilliant to me. The pheasant breasts weren’t frozen. Done deal!
My mother-in-law said that at home she usually just dredged the pheasant breasts in flour and fried them. That didn’t sound very Thanksgivingish to either of us, so we cracked open one of my cookbooks [Betty Crocker’s New Dinner for Two Cookbook that I bought as a newlywed] to find something more festive.
On page 39, we found Pheasant en Crème. Oh, yes. So sophisticated. So chic. So ‘veddy’ upper class. The sides that went with it looked easy enough to prepare too. We looked at each other and grinned. We two adventurous chefs were about to impress the socks off our family.
We checked the list of ingredients. The recipe called for a whole pheasant. We figured we had enough pheasant breasts to make a whole bird. Check. I had salt, onion, and garlic cloves. Check, check, check. Uh-Oh. My pantry failed to yield Cream of Chicken Soup, apple cider, Worcestershire sauce, and mushrooms. The stores were closed. Hmmm. What to do? Substitution, of course. That was definitely the way to go.
Let’s see. I did have Cream of Mushroom soup, so we could substitute that for the Cream of Chicken Soup and the mushrooms—took care of two ingredients with one can. I didn’t have apple cider, but I had apple cider vinegar. Close enough. Now Worcestershire sauce, well that one was a toughie. Wait a minute. I had a huge bottle of Soy Sauce. Doesn’t that taste a lot like Worcestershire sauce? Sure it does. What the heck, it would have to do.
We both agreed we had everything covered. But, to ease the niggling doubts lurking in the backs of our minds, we got out the plain old unsophisticated ham that I planned to serve for dinner on Friday and stuck it in the oven along with our bastardized Pheasant en Crème dish.
We set an extravagant table. We used the good matching glasses. No cartoon character jelly jar glasses for us. We used the matching stainless flatware and good everyday dinnerware instead of Macho Guy’s mismatched, scratched and faded Melmac dishes from his college days. We even used cloth napkins instead of paper, and we left the centerpiece on the dining room table even though we couldn’t see each other over the humongous arrangement. Yes, we went all out.
At dinnertime, we proudly carried our culinary masterpiece to the table to smiles and applause. We said grace, and I silently added a prayer that none of us would die of food poisoning if the Pheasant en Crème turned out not to be as festive as my mother-in-law and I hoped. We began serving, passing the plates around, and then everyone prepared to begin their gourmet dining experience.
I think I was the first to take a bite. I put that first forkful in my mouth and my taste buds immediately begged for mercy. I actually believe I heard them scream at me.
Spit it out, spit it out, spit it out! Now, now, now! Don’t swallow, don’t swallow, whatever the hell you do, don’t swallow!!!
Oh. My. God. This must be what poison tastes like. I peeked around the humongous centerpiece to see my mother-in-law’s expression of horror as she began turning green. She did what my taste buds were urging me to do. She grabbed her napkin and spit the noxious concoction into it. I did likewise. At almost the exact moment, we both shouted at everyone, “Don’t eat it! Don’t eat it! It’s awful!”
We were much too kind to ourselves. Awful did not begin to cover the ground. Gosh-awful did not begin to cover the ground. Freaking Gosh-awful did not begin to cover the ground. There were no awful words in the dictionary that were awful enough to describe how awful our awful Frankensteined Pheasant en Crud dish tasted.
I snatched up the serving platter at once. My mother-in-law desperately started snatching dinner plates away from everyone and slapping their forks out of their hands, but not before Macho Guy and his dad decided to see what the shouting was about. They were fool enough to swallow chunks of the toxic bird and both gagged. They reached for their water glasses and drained them. My father-in-law then rubbed salt into the already gaping wound. He said, “What a waste of good pheasant.”
Humiliated beyond belief, my mother-in-law and I retreated to the kitchen in abject failure. We dumped the contents of the platter and the plates down the garbage disposal where that slop found kindred spirits.
Thankfully, we had the good old solid dependable ham. We brought it out to everyone’s vast relief, and Macho Guy sliced it and served it. Everyone tasted it. Everyone chewed it. Everyone swallowed it. No one spit it out. At last, my mother-in-law and I had something to be thankful for.
Macho Guy’s older sister and her husband had been delayed and arrived when the rest of us had just about finished eating. The others regaled them with a grossly exaggerated tale of the lethal culinary disaster my mother-in-law and I had prepared, claiming we tried to poison everyone so we could collect their life insurance benefits. Ha-Ha. Very funny.
Well, this particular brother-in-law of Macho’s was widely known for his cast iron stomach. He asked if we had any of the pheasant left. We did. There was quite a lot left in the baking pan that we hadn’t yet consigned to the garbage disposal. He said he’d like to try it. Everyone did his best to dissuade him, but he was insistent.
I brought out the baking pan containing the remains of the infamous Pheasant en Crap. Macho’s brother-in-law encouraged me to pile a huge portion on his plate, and then he dug in with gusto. The rest of us waited for the inevitable gagging and probable puking. Instead, he pronounced it delicious and asked for seconds. And thirds. We all watched dumbstruck as he chowed down. Not only did he have a cast iron stomach, he also had cast iron taste buds.
My mother-in-law and I never lived down that we prepared the most absolutely terrible, horrible, inedible, worst thanksgiving dinner ever. We heard about it every Thanksgiving thereafter, ad infinitum. We were not alone in our infamy, however. Macho’s brother-in-law never lived down that he ate that incredibly inedible bird without gagging or puking, that he enjoyed it so much that he asked for seconds and thirds, and then he lived to tell about it. Thus memorable family legends are born.
I wish you all a Thanksgiving that is happy and nothing like the disaster I just described.