In olden times, long before the wide wide world of webs became popular, the ancient computer tribes followed something called USENET Newsgroups. I’m not kidding. Really, they did.
Newsgroups WERE the internet for the lucky few who could spell internet and if you were on-line, you could email and you could follow newsgroups and that was pretty much it. Look up USENET on wikipedia sometime … it was quite a ride and it worked amazingly well considering it was a mishmash of random computer systems world-wide.
Anyway, I mention that because I was a small part of it for a number of years, helping to moderate one of the newsgroups called rec.food.recipes. Food and cooking had a pretty good sized niche in USENET. A moderated newsgroup meant that posts had to be approved before being unleashed, which kept things on-topic. In a general purpose newsgroup things could get pretty crazy. The terms FLAMEWAR and GODWIN’S LAW are still in use and they were both associated with the craziness that was part of the general newsgroups.
The moderated recipes newsgroup was fairly sedate. People posted recipes they liked, and made requests for recipes they had lost or just wanted … as in “anybody have a recipe for key lime pie?”
While I was a moderator, every year about this time of year, people would start requesting a legendary turkey recipe known as Black Turkey. This is one of those things that used to get mimeographed or photo-copied and sent around in offices — we’re talking pre-computer days. In fact, it was one of the first really cool things I ever found on the internet, way back in late 1980-something. Our newsgroup used to post it every year because we knew someone would eventually request it if we didn’t.
The copy below is the same one I used to post years ago. It is attributed to author Morton Thompson, by way of an unidentified author, referenced by another author, Robert Benchly.
It is a fun read and believe it or not, when I posted it, people said they actually tried it and it was good, but reviews were mixed and I always thought that perhaps it might not be so good as to be worth all the trouble. It’s a fun read, though.
Ah, but this is 2015, probably a good 17-18 years since I last posted it. I did something I never thought about before … I researched it and found more information … two links are listed after the recipe … one is yet another rendering, this one attributed to Canadian humorist Pierre Berton, and the other, a blog post from a Craig Smith reads like an academic treatise and includes several renderings along with quite a bit of insight. Doesn’t mention Pierre though.
Who knew Black Turkey could be so controversial?
Anyway, here, for your amusement, is the famous Black Turkey Recipe with additions.
——————-Black Turkey, circa 1963————————–
For about a dozen years, at the approach of turkey-eating season, I have
been trumpeting to all who would listen, and to a good many who would
rather not, that there is only one way to cook a turkey. This turkey is
not my turkey. It is the creation of the late Morton Thompson, who wrote
“Not as a Stranger” and other books.
This recipe was first contained in the manuscript of a book called “The
Countess” which was given to the late Robert Benchley, who had eaten
the turkey and was so moved as to write an introduction to the book.
Benchley then lost the manuscript. He kept hoping it would turn up–
although not as much, perhaps, as Thompson did, but somehow it vanished,
irretrievably. Thompson did not have the heart to write it over. He did,
however, later put his turkey rule in another book. Not a cookbook, but a
collection of very funny pieces called “Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player”.
THE ONLY WAY TO COOK A TURKEY!!!!!!!
This turkey is work… it requires more attention than an average
six-month-old baby. There are no shortcuts, as you will see.
Get a HUGE turkey– I don’t mean just a big, big bird, but one that looks
as though it gave the farmer a hard time when he did it in. It ought to
weigh between 16 and 30 pounds. Have the poultryman, or butcher, cut its
head off at the end of the neck, peel back the skin, and remove the neck
close to the body, leaving the tube. You will want this for stuffing.
Also , he should leave all the fat on the bird.
When you are ready to cook your bird, rub it inside and out with salt and
pepper. Give it a friendly pat and set it aside. Chop the heart, gizzard,
and liver and put them, with the neck, into a stewpan with a clove of
garlic, a large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp coriander, and some salt. I don’t know
how much salt– whatever you think. Cover this with about 5 cups of water
and put on the stove to simmer. This will be the basting fluid a little
About this time I generally have my first drink of the day, usually a
RAMOS FIZZ. I concoct it by taking the whites of four eggs, an equal
amount of cream, juice of half a lemon (less 1 tsp.), 1/2 tsp.
confectioner’s sugar, an appropriate amount of gin, and blending with a
few ice cubes. Pour about two tablespoons of club soda in a chimney glass,
add the mix, with ice cubes if you prefer. Save your egg yolks, plus
1 tsp. of lemon — you’ll need them later. Have a good sip! (Add 1 dash
of Orange Flower Water to the drink, not the egg yolks)
Get a huge bowl. Throw into it one diced apple, one diced orange, a
large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of a lemon, and three
tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger (If you like ginger, double
this -REB). Add 2 cans of drained Chinese water chestnuts.
Mix this altogether, and have another sip of your drink. Get a second,
somewhat smaller, bowl. Into this, measuring by teaspoons, put:
2 hot dry mustard
2 caraway seed
2 celery seed
2 poppy seed
1 black pepper
2 1/2 oregano
3/4 thyme 1/4 basil
1/2 chili powder
In the same bowl, add:
1 Tbl. poultry seasoning
4 Tbl parsley
4 headless crushed cloves
1 well crushed bay leaf
4 large chopped onions
6 good dashes Tabasco
5 crushed garlic cloves
6 large chopped celery
Wipe your brow, refocus your eyes, get yet another drink–and a third
bowl. Put in three packages of unseasoned bread crumbs (or two loaves of
toast or bread crumbs), 3/4 lb. ground veal, 1/2 lb. ground fresh pork,
1/4 lb. butter, and all the fat you have been able to pull out of the
About now it seems advisable to switch drinks. Martinis or stingers are
recommended (Do this at your own risk – we always did! -REB). Get a
fourth bowl, an enormous one. Take a sip for a few minutes, wash your
hands, and mix the contents of all the other bowls. Mix it well. Stuff
the bird and skewer it. Put the leftover stuffing into the neck tube.
Turn your oven to 500 degrees F and get out a fifth small bowl. Make a
paste consisting of those four egg yolks and lemon juice left from the
Ramos Fizz. Add 1 tsp hot dry mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, 1 Tbl
onion juice, and enough flour to make a stiff paste. When the oven is
red hot, put the bird in, down on the rack. Sip on your drink
until the bird has begin to brown all over, then take it out and paint
the bird all over with paste. Put it back in and turn the oven down to
350 degrees F. Let the paste set, then pull the bird out and paint again.
Keep doing this until the paste is used up.
Add a quart of cider or white wine to the stuff that’s been simmering on
the stove, This is your basting fluid. The turkey must be basted every
15 minutes. Don’t argue. Set your timer and keep it up. (When confronted
with the choice “do I baste from the juice under the bird or do I baste
with the juice from the pot on the stove?” make certain that the juice
under the bird neither dries out and burns, nor becomes so thin that
gravy is weak. When you run out of baste, use cheap red wine. This
critter makes incredible gravy! -REB) The bird should cook about 12
minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes. Enlist the aid of your
friends and family.
As the bird cooks, it will first get a light brown, then a dark brown,
then darker and darker. After about 2 hours you will think I’m crazy. The
bird will be turning black. (Newcomers to black turkey will think you are
demented and drunk on your butt, which, if you’ve followed instructions,
you are -REB) In fact, by the time it is finished, it will look as though
we have ruined it. Take a fork and poke at the black cindery crust.
Beneath, the bird will be a gorgeous mahogany, reminding one of those
golden-browns found in a precious Rembrandt. Stick the fork too deep, and
the juice will gush to the ceiling. When you take it out, ready to carve
it, you will find that you do not need a knife. A loud sound will cause
the bird to fall apart like the walls of that famed biblical city. The
moist flesh will drive you crazy, and the stuffing–well, there is
nothing like it on this earth. You will make the gravy just like it as
always done, adding the giblets and what is left of the basting fluid.
Sometime during the meal, use a moment to give thanks to Morton Thompson.
There is seldom, if ever, leftover turkey when this recipe is used. If
there is, you’ll find that the fowl retains its moisture for a few days.
That’s all there is to it. It’s work, hard work— but it’s worth it.
(What follows is not part of the recipe, but is an ingredients list to
aid in shopping for this monster, or for checking your spice cabinet -REB)
1 large can crushed pineapple
4 large onions
6 celery stalks
buncha preserved ginger
2 cans water chestnuts
3 packages unseasoned bread crumbs
3/4 pounds ground veal
1/2 pounds ground pork
1 quart apple cider
Now, as promised, two more links, just to complete your holiday excursion … enjoy