The Thanksgiving Dinner When I Almost Poisoned Mom

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and inspired by Kelly McKenzie’s telling of her great turkey debacle (a post that includes the line “Guys maybe you should stand back a bit. This puppy could explode.”), I thought I’d share with you the story about how I accidentally almost poisoned my mother.

The year was 1979.

Clare, Catherine and I were all settled into our big-girls’ apartment, a lovely 3 bedroom gem in Evanston, just outside of Chicago. We could walk to shops and restaurants and had an easy commute into the city for our jobs.

Our building shared a parking lot with the Evanston police department which made us feel well protected. Although there was that one time when the Evanston police were holding members of the F.A.L.N terrorist group – including the FBI’s #1 most wanted – and had snipers posted in the parking lot and on the roof of our apartment building. But still…

skull and crossbones

Back to the near-poisoning.

Clare and Catherine were going home for Thanksgiving and my mom was coming to spend the weekend with me.

We were going to shop for my wedding dress and see some sights but first, we were going to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.

I was very excited to cook the feast in our barely serviceable kitchen. Our little galley worked fine for the frozen pot pies and macaroni and cheese that were the staples of the “home cooking” prepared by my roommates and me (once we taught Catherine how to boil water – not kidding.). But mom and I would make do and it would be fun.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving I made my trip to the grocery store to buy the turkey, stuffing mix, ingredients for the ever-famous green bean casserole, some potatoes and a yummy pie.

At night after work I fluffed and buffed our apartment so it would be all set to welcome my first and most important guest.

On Thanksgiving morning I woke up bright and early, sending Catherine and Clare off with a hug then heading to O’Hare Airport to pick up my mom.

Once we returned to the apartment and she had taken a few minutes to unpack, we were ready to get down to the business of preparing our Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I may not have been the best cook in the world but I did know that the frozen turkey had to be defrosted before preparation.

What I didn’t know, because I failed to read the directions, was that the defrosting process was to be done a) in the refrigerator, slowly over several days or b) in a cool bath of water, slowly over several hours.

I chose my very own option “c”: leave the bird out on the counter for 24 hours or so.

That will do the trick, right?

I really wish I had a picture of the look on my mom’s face when she realized what was going on. Her reaction to the horror and hilarity of the situation was priceless.

My mom, being quite literally the sweetest person in the world, regained her composure and went into action.

Keep Calm and Turkey On

“Let’s unwrap the turkey and see what we have.”

Well, folks, what we had was a turkey that was indeed fully thawed (yay, me!).

It was also sporting what looked like a giant bruise, a turkey hematoma if you will, caused by the collection of all the bacteria-filled juices and turkey blood.

Yummmm, right?!?!

Nothing says Thanksgiving like a trip to the emergency room to have your stomach pumped.

“Oh, honey, I don’t think we should eat this turkey.”, said my mother, stating the room-temperature, hard truth.

We hopped in the car and zoomed off to the grocery store convinced we could salvage the day.

Fortunately there were a few turkeys left in the freezer case. And fortunately they were mostly the small, unpopular ones.

We selected an itty-bitty turkey and stepped up to the checkout lane.

The well-meaning but party-pooping clerk said to us, “Oh ladies, you know you aren’t going to be able to eat that turkey today, right?”

My mom, as uber-nice as she is, still has a pretty strong streak of Connecticut Yankee feistiness in her. The clerk’s kill-joy remark just made my mom even more determined that we were, in fact, going to eat that turkey that day.

The rest of the afternoon and early evening were spent properly defrosting our bird in the sink.

With our new, non-bacterial turkey in the oven we prepared our side dishes, set a festive table and watched the clock.

At approximately 11pm, with a whole hour to spare in the day, mom and I sat down to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

That year I was thankful for a lot of things including my new job, my new apartment, and my upcoming marriage to Peter.

But that day I was mostly thankful for the opportunity to make some new memories with my mom and thankful that I had not sent her to the hospital with food poisoning.

If you are preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year, or doing any cooking at all, you should check out the new L.A. Times “California Cookbook” interactive recipe site. The site also has some great videos including this one on how to brine and roast a turkey. Please note that their turkey is hematoma-free.

What about you? Have you had any Thanksgiving near misses? Or straight-up disasters? Do tell, you’ll feel better!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thanks for stopping by!


  1. I’m having Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in my home this year. There could be a last minute pizza delivery in my future!
    Carpool Goddess recently posted…Tips For Making A Fabulous Holiday DinnerMy Profile

  2. Oh my turkey giblets. I am thrilled to have inspired the recounting of this near mishap. It’s a classic and so very like something I would have done in 1979. Thawing is thawing, no? No. I am so glad you managed to call in a sub at the last minute. Bless your mom and her room temperature, hard truth.
    Kelly McKenzie recently posted…Whale Watching? No Thank You.My Profile

  3. That is hilarious! My mother would always buy our Thanksgiving turkey a week before Thanksgiving, and let it sit in the refrigerator to thaw for the whole week. The funny thing is, it would STILL be frozen in the middle. Every. Single. Time.

    This will be the first Thanksgiving Andre and I will have as a married couple, and I’ve already ordered a full course dinner from the grocery store. I’m not taking any chances.
    Kristen recently posted…A little bit of Old School BloggingMy Profile

  4. What a GREAT story!! Being a CT Yankee myself, I love your mom already and I would have been just as determined as she was.
    There’s a story told time and again in my family about the first time my mom cooked a turkey for the big day. Apparently there was a bag of stuffing of something IN the bird that was supposed to be taken out before cooking it. Well, it escaped her to take it out and the inside of the bird was melted plastic. YUM!
    Allie recently posted…Allie’s Arms – The TrifectaMy Profile

  5. I very nearly made that SAME MISTAKE with my very first turkey! Luckily I said something to a friend who steered me back on track before I reached the bruised turkey/bacteria stage! Your mom was a trooper that day!! I love her Yankee spunk!! 😀 (I also love that you had to teach your roommate to boil water. You have to start somewhere!!) Hope your Thanksgiving is filled with happiness and love this year (and no near-misses with ptomaine poisoning! –Lisa
    The Dose of Reality recently posted…Facebooking For FunMy Profile

  6. Cute story. One year my Dad forgot to pick up a roast for my Mom to cook for Christmas… Talk about firworks on Christmas Day!

  7. Love this story!! And the way everyone handled the situation! Thanks for sharing. Sometimes when things don’t quite go perfectly, it leads to the best stories in years to come.
    Rachel G recently posted…Pranks and Other MischiefMy Profile

  8. Dying. This is way better than my first turkey thawing nightmare. I just gave mine a bath in the hot tub. 🙂
    susan recently posted…10 Problems I want to solve for youMy Profile

  9. I have yet to cook an entire turkey, but I will keep this post in mind if I ever do! Glad in the end you were able to enjoy a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner before the end of the day, great story! 🙂
    Bev recently posted…How to Make Your Own Recycled Gift BoxesMy Profile

  10. What a funny story! I’m glad you mom was there to let you know that the turkey wasn’t edible! Haha. Oh memories! 🙂

  11. Your kitchen sounds like my current one and I’m cooking for my brother, sister and I since both our parents abandoned us. Wish me luck I don’t poison anyone!
    Kate recently posted…Hop aboard the reading train…My Profile

  12. OMG, a turkey hematoma! that is so hilarious. you are too funny. i’m such a spoiled brat, i’ve never had to cook for thanksgiving. who am i kidding…i don’t cook at all. glad it all turned out ok. plus, your mom sounds like the nicest person in the world!
    catherine gacad recently posted…Emergency RoomMy Profile

  13. What a hilarious story…glad it all worked out!! xoxo

  14. I do love a good Thanksgiving mishap, but oh no! Poisoning your mom would be a very bad thing. Good thing she was so sweet about it, yet determined to still have a properly defrosted turkey for Thanksgiving.

    I don’t have any Thanksgiving mishaps of my own because I’ve never had to host – that’s way too far out of my league!
    Gracielle recently posted…The Ultimate Bloggers’ Christmas Wish List 2013My Profile

  15. What a great story! You made it under the wire! Which reminds me, I better go buy my turkey soon…
    Michelle recently posted…Giving Thanks {Ladies Only Blog Share}My Profile

  16. That’s a teachable moment, Mo! I have never cooked a turkey so I probably would have made the same mistake. Had no clue because my husband always smokes or fries our Thanksgiving turkey. I clean my house just right for when my mother visits too. Great story. You were determined to have Thanksgiving and you did.

    My worst cooking moment was when I was single and freshly living on my own. I attempted to make spaghetti like I THOUGHT my mother did. I cooked the ground meat in the sauce instead of browning it first. I couldn’t figure out why it tasted so fatty. LOL!
    Kimberly H. Smith recently posted…Must-Have Qualities For Your Blog PostsMy Profile

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