Talking Turkey, or a Few Sage Words About Birds

UPDATED 12/02/1991 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/02/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

HEREWITH THE TALE OF A LOTHARIO who invited both his girlfriends over for Thanksgiving dinner. Since his two dates didn't know about each other, prudence and tact required that he entertain them in sequence, one arriving after the other departed. But our low-budget lover didn't want to buy a second turkey. His problem: Would one turkey stay hot and juicy through two dinners?

Who could he turn to in a crisis like this? Dear Abby doesn't take phone calls; neither does Ann Landers. Jean Schnelle does, though, and that's who the young man called, at 1-800-323-4848. She told him that if he wrapped his bird in foil and kept it in the oven between trysts, his scheme might go undetected.

Then there was the caller whose turkey had been in the freezer since 1968 and who wondered if it would still be edible. Schnelle suggested that the bird would be better as a family keepsake than as family dinner. Another caller asked for advice on cooking his turkey in a dishwasher. Schnelle advised against it.

Schnelle, 58, has worked the phones at the Butterball company's toll-free Turkey Talk Line for a decade and now directs 44 other experts who dispense advice to the turkey-troubled. A Minnesota native who holds degrees in home economics and journalism from Iowa State, she is a former food editor at the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. In 1981, when Butterball began its hot line, she decided it was the perfect job. Besides, as her son Christopher said, "You love to talk on the phone."

Since then, she estimates that she has answered approximately 75,000 questions on every turkey-cooking subject from thawing to stuffing and from storage to testing for doneness. Last Thanksgiving, more than 21,000 people called the hot line. "Now, with cordless phones," she says, "we get calls right from the table asking how to carve." But the all-time classic question is a simple one: "What do I have to do to cook a perfect turkey?"

Listen to Jean Schnelle, gobbler gourmet: "Cook the turkey at 325 degrees, in an open pan, until the thermometer registers 180—185 degrees. No basting is necessary, and cover the turkey with foil to protect it when the skin turns golden brown."

If you still mess up, get on the phone to Jean before Christmas.

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