It’s 6:30 a.m. and I’m elbow deep inside the quarter-eaten turkey left over from Thanksgiving dinner. A twenty-five pounder. Despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian, this is the third bird I’ve roasted.
The hardest part is over, the turkey already roasted, will be picked apart and transformed into turkey noodle soup.
Easy, right? I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and shut out everything but the sound of Rachmaninov’s cello sonata in g minor. Then I begin.
I carve the excess meat off the skeleton and place it in a large bowl. A swift cut, breast meat hangs like a shelf over the bone. Mirepoix and salt gather in the air, I add a pinch of salt, to the nearly caramelized vegetable trio. A handful of fresh parsley leaves and several cups of chicken stock go in the pot before sliding the carved turkey into the pot. The stock cooks overnight until the meat floats from the bone, easy and swift, without having to tear it.
I lift the 72-quart stock pot off the stove then strain the stock into another pot. The deconstructed bird tumbles into the colander. I separate the supple skin into one pile and the naked bones into another. My hands, slicked in fat, glisten. The skin almost wiggles itself off. The meat too surrenders.
Another bone snaps. I wince and unthread muscle from wing, then thigh. I need to get rid of this carcass and make room in the refrigerator, I remind myself as my stomach curls. More carrots and celery are added to the stock along with a pound of cooked egg noodles. This soup is epic and so heavy that I can barely haul it off the stove to photograph it.
Fifteen minutes pass and my hands are once again deep inside the turkey, gathering the last pieces of meat to top off the soup. I count the vertebrae along the broken spine and vow to find a smaller bird next year. As I bag the bones inside a plastic bag and place them in the trash, I think about “The Bone Lady.”
TBL salvages turkey and other animal bones to make googly eye dragons, place card holders, and earring and necklace sets. She strips the carcasses clean in the woods beyond her backyard, then she boils the bones in a large cauldron filled with water, bleach, and lye. For several months, she leaves the bones in mesh covered to dry outside.
TBL teaches high school and spends her time cleaning and assembling small animal bones, it’s an unsettling hobby to say the least, but I can’t stop imagining who she is and why she doesn’t collect and decorate pine cones and acorns.
Anyway, she may be my ticket out of cooking another pot of turkey soup. If only I can find someone to roast the bird next year.