A Look at the Big Day: Project Proposal
The time is 0700 hours. The sun is just beginning to rise, but already my uncle is preparing for the big day. The pot needs to be cleaned, the oil needs to be heated, and the turkey needs to be readied. He is in charge of the most important part of the thanksgiving meal and he takes his job very seriously. Everything has to be just right, just like his father taught him and his father before that. My family has been frying turkeys for generations and there is no one better. My uncle has a lot to live up to when it comes to frying turkeys, but he always comes through.
The time in 1100 hours. My family comes over to my uncle’s house in the suburbs of Tucker, Georgia to help with preparations for the meal and immediately as you walk through the door you’re hit by the wonderful and enticing aromas of the turkey, not quite yet finished, but already incredibly appetizing. Unfortunately, there’s no time to be lulled away by the delectable scents, for there’s much to do to get ready. The adults all get to work finalizing their dishes they brought already half made. An array of colors and tastes and smells all rolled into one, yet they are perfectly distinguishable. There’s all the southern American classics: green beans, black eyed peas, collard greens, mashed potatoes, dressing… So much delicious food that it slowly, but surely, becomes overwhelming. However, the adults soon kick us kids out for, “If y’all aren’t gonna be helpin’, might as well go on someplace else.” So, reluctantly, my cousins and I retreat from the wonderful aromas and sights to go find someplace to wait for our prize.
Unfortunately, my family hasn’t always been so privileged to have such a wonderful array of incredible foods. We originate from Scotland, the “lowlanders”, as some called them. Many of the lowlander Scottish were impoverished and didn’t have any work. So these Scots decided to move off into the world in search of a better place to settle with more economic opportunity. This led to the settling of the Ulster region in Ireland, hence the name “Scotch-Irish”. Here my ancestors found success for some time, however times began to grow hard with many crops failing and pressure from the church for tithes. Many of the Scotch-Irish looked to the new world for a new home. Much of them founded settlements in New England, however some, my family included, made their way South. Here they stayed and grew, slowly forming new American traditions, while still holding on to their Scotch-Irish ones.
Now back to 2015. The time has come for the feast everyone has been waiting for. The table is set, thanks to the children who had finally been corralled into doing something useful, and the food is all laid out. What a magnificent sight. To my cousins and me it looked like a feast fit for a king. The spread was arranged so that each dish seemed to complement each other equally. But of course there could only be one star of this show: the fried turkey. It stands above the rest, claiming its spot in the center of the table, a spot reserved only for the most delicious. We, the audience to this magnificent display, took our spots around the table, the same every year, my grandfather at one end and my uncle at the other. We all take our seats and the conversation begins to lessen as we await the signal to dig in. When it finally comes, an organized frenzy begins to occur as the food is passed around and everyone takes their helping, for some a helping and a half. This meal is a way for my family to connect with one another, a continued tradition that hasn’t changed since well before i was born.
My uncle is the middle child of five with two older brothers and two younger sisters, so he’s never been the center of attention. His life was spent very much like most average, southern boys. He was a boy scout as a kid and joined the ROTC as a young adult. He dropped out of this before he could be recruited to fight in the Vietnam War. After that he had various jobs, most featuring work with his hands. He has always been good with his hands. His father noticed this at a young age and often asked him to help out with tasks around the house. These jobs included general maintenance around the house and other tasks deemed necessary for the man of the house. His father also taught him about the minimal amount of cooking that he took care of for the family. One of these dishes in particular was the frying of the turkey. When my uncle was a teenager, my father decided it was time for him to learn this family tradition. It was difficult and complicated, but every year he became more and more capable and self-sufficient at the task. He eventually got the chance to cook the whole bird himself. From that point forth he continued to prepare the turkey for every Thanksgiving meal in our family just the way that it has been as it’s passed down from generation to generation.
The act of frying foods has a long and ancient history. The first reported act of frying foods was believed to be in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. The Scottish, perhaps even some of my ancestors, were the first to bring the idea of frying chickens to the New World. In the south, slaves on plantations added their own unique twists on fried chicken with herbs and spices. Between that and the cast iron pans becoming popular, frying foods became a staple of southern cuisine. At some point in this time line the act of frying the turkey was introduced. It was an easy step up from chickens, especially due to the commonality of turkeys in North America. The fried turkey became a common scene at southern meals and as the concept of the traditional southerner began to take form, most southerners, old and new, began to have a consistent meal with a fried turkey center piece. My family probably adopted this southern identity when they came to the Southern United States from Northern Ireland.
In this essay I plan on asking my uncle about what his thanksgiving meal was like when he was younger. Also I will ask him about what memories he has of learning from his father how to fry the turkey properly. Lastly I will discuss how this meal became a tradition for my family.