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Robertson’s Thanksgiving Injun Bird
(This recipe can be found with about 200 others I've created in my new book which will be a cookbook named, “Florida Boy’s Down to Earth Country Cooking.” It is in the process of being published now
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it is centered around food. About 15 years ago we were at my wife's folk’s lake place near Hawthorne, Florida, as we almost always do for the holiday. Over 25 years ago when I first married Kathy, I started what became a tradition of building a fire by digging fire pit near the lake and burning oak logs in it.
Around 18 years ago, we were at the Lake place and I had one of my usual light bulbs over the head flashes and imagined images of the pilgrims and Indians cooking the first turkeys and felt it was probably not done in an oven back then. I had also seen cowboy and Indian movies where they roasted a prairie chicken on a spit over an open campfire. I decided to do just that and took a turkey down to the lake with me. I tramped around in the nearby woods and collected a long, still green oak sapling for my spit and some limbs of trees with branches sticking out from the side to plant on either end of the fire pit full of oak and hickory wood.
I rammed the sapling up the nether end of said bird and suspended it over the fire from the branches that stuck out from each limb. The branches were trimmed so that only a few inches protruded, which allowed me to raise or lower the bird to adjust to the height of the fire.
The butter and spices (see the recipe) were painted on and the process of roast for 15 minutes, turn a quarter turn, baste again and roast for 15 minutes and so on for a couple hours—I covered the top of mister bird with a tent of aluminum foil to keep the heat and moisture in.
Meanwhile, the family began to eat the other turkeys and food they had prepared. Ours is a ‘countrified’ family and the food is to die for, having been prepared the way generations passed down to generations, and everything is cooked from fresh ingredients. But, I just waited. I had no idea how long this would take but after a couple hours it was evident that the bird was done.
When I took it off the fire, pulled the oak sapling out and began to carve, the family members began to mumble that they were too full to eat any more. But Kathy’s granddaddy Lewis, a marvelous and good-natured old soul, stepped up and stated: “Well, I’m gonna’ have some of it!” And he forked several slices on a plate and proceeded to groan with pleasure while he ate it.
I’ll be darned if the family didn’t turn into a school into piranhas after that and literally stripped every shard of meat from the bones. I have been expected to do this every year since. Hence, no grill or range. I plan an additional treat for everyone this year with a big loaf of corn bread from a new recipe I have added to the cookbook. Nothing beats meat cooked over a ‘real’ wood fire of oak and/or hickory. –So much fun, and isn’t that what life is all about.
Robertson's Indian style turkey
Will feed 12 (or more depending on the size of the turkey). Rule of ‘thumb’ is one pound of bird for people you are serving. Using larger turkeys for this recipe is not advised, although completely possible.
Turkey (12 pounds)
Ground oregano (2 Tablespoons)
Powdered garlic (4 Ounce)
Basil (2 Tablespoons)
Rubbed Sage (1 Tablespoon)
Cajun seasoning ground very fine (2 Tablespoons)
Black pepper 1 (Tablespoon)
Salt (1 Tablespoon)
Real butter (1 ½ pounds)
Hickory or oak logs
1. (This is optional) After removing the neck and giblets from the cavity of the turkey, soak it in a brine solution for six hours. Use one cup of salt to one gallon of fresh water. After placing the bird in the water, pour ice in. A five-gallon bucket with a trash bag inside works great for this. After six hours, remove the bird from the brine, rinse inside and out with fresh water and pat it dry inside and out with paper towels. Place uncovered in a pan and let sit in the refrigerator for 10 to 24 hours.
2. Dig a pit in the ground about 16 - 18 inches wide, 36 inches long and 12 inches deep.
3. Cut some firewood. Use hickory, oak, or pecan. Hickory is best. A small amount of pine or lighter knot, a teepee of twigs, and newspaper to start the fire may be used but cooking solely on pine will adversely affect the taste so only use enough to get the fire started. These days, the commercially produced ‘starting logs’ work well for the boy or girl scout challenged individual. Not only should there be enough hickory or oak to start the initial fire, but more should be laid to the side for stoking the fire later.
4. Place the wood in the fire pit. To start a good fire, place several handfuls of very thin, dry twigs, broken to about one to two feet long tepee fashion over a large, loosely wadded bundle of paper. Place larger thin branches - also tepee style - over the twigs and follow up with several even larger branches; all one to two feet long. Liquid fuels shouldn’t be used. They aren’t necessary and they will taint the taste of the meat.
5. Look in the woods for a young tree or bush which has a straight trunk of about two to three inches diameter and lots of branches and cut off a couple of feet above the ground so as to not kill the original tree. Two similar ones will be needed. Cut to three feet six inches in length and trim all the branches off next to the trunk for the first foot of the bottom half. Cut the branches off about six inches from the trunk (leaving each about 6 inches long). Next, sharpen the bottom end and drive one into the ground at each end of the fire. Note: the branches on each of the two "trunks" should have branches, each which is roughly the same distance from the bottom. These will form the standards, which will support the spit. (Since I started doing this every Thanksgiving at the family’s request, I made reusable standards from four-foot long stakes of wood with dowel rods inserted horizontally into drilled holes. I made the spit from an aluminum pipe about 8’ long and 1 ½ inch in diameter. Also, I drilled holes large enough for the dowels to slide through on one end so that I could turn it a quarter turn at a time, slide it on the dowel and it would remain stationary. Four holes are needed for this—all the way through the pipe. –as per below. I drilled another hole in the middle so I could shove a sharpened dowel through the bird and the rod to keep it from spinning.)
6. While in the woods, look for an oak or hickory sapling, which is very straight, and about two to three inches in diameter. Cut it off several feet from the ground so that the original stump will regenerate new limbs and trunks thus staying alive. Cut it to six feet in length. This will be the spit. Trim all the branches off close to the trunk and scour the spit with soap and water. (Leave one of the larger branches in the middle of the sapling and cut it off leaving about a foot of the branch). Be sure to rinse all the soap off.
7. Drive the two standards into the ground on either side of the fire pit. The six inch long (trimmed) horizontal branches left on the standards will support the spit and allow for adjustments closer to and farther away from the fire in the fire pit depending on the height of the flames.
8. Start the fire and add several logs as it begins to burn well. Adjust the logs so that they cover the area of the fire pit. Add logs throughout the cooking process as needed to keep the fire constant.
9. With the turkey sitting in a pan, season the bird. Using an injector (looks like a huge hypodermic needle) inject the turkey with a mixture of melted butter and fine ground Cajun seasoning. Start with the breast near the head. Be sure to inject it thoroughly. Shove the needle down in the bird close to the skin and slowly pull out as you gently squeeze in the mixture. Using the same hole, do another insertion a little deeper then inject again and again in different directions like the main points of a compass. Move back to the rear of the breast and start another hole, doing the same thing then move to the other breast. Next, inject the drumsticks, thighs and wings in the same fashion. Cut each lemon in two. Pull up the skin on the breast and shove the lemon slices in between the skin and the breast meat—two halves per side.
10. Melt at least four sticks (or a small tub) of butter or margarine and mix the spices listed above into it. Stir this mixture thoroughly and take it and the grill brush to the table at the side of the fire.
11. Push the spit through the turkey until the turkey is in the middle. Shove the branch left attached to the middle of the spit into the bird’s cavity to keep the bird from spinning (as mentioned above). (Note, this has changed since I manufactured reusable standards and aluminum spit.) Wrap a doubled piece of aluminum foil around the bony ends (only) of each leg and wing.
12. When the fire is burning good, place the spit with the turkey on the standards. Keep the turkey at least 12 inches higher than the longest flames, which can be accomplished by moving up and down on the cut off limbs on the standards. “Paint” the upper portion of the turkey with the butter and spice mixture.
13. Join two pieces of extra wide aluminum foil by folding an edge of each together so as to make an extra large piece of foil. Place this over the top of the roasting bird in "pup tent" fashion. It may need to be gathered about the spit in front and behind the bird slightly to keep it on, however, be sure to leave the bottom open for access to the fire. This will not only cause an oven roasting effect which drives the heat back down over the top of the bird, it allows the moisture to condense and drop down thus basting the bird at the same time.
14. Optional: Put your chair and your cooler of beer, wine or iced tea next to the fire, watch the fire and drink some beverage because the roasting turkey will need to be tended.
15. Every 15 minutes, turn the bird via turning the spit 1/4 turn, remove the foil and brush some butter and spices solution liberally on the up portions of the roasting bird. Replace the foil. Be sure to keep the turkey at least a foot higher than the highest flames moving it up or down as necessary. Also, stoke the fire as needed to keep a nice flame burning.
16. Usually, three hours—or a little longer, depending on the size of the bird, will be necessary to cook the turkey. When a knife or fork can be easily slid into the meat, it is done.
Have your carving knife good and sharp. Get ready for a feast!
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