CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Glossy magazine covers with photos of trendy holiday dinners don't tempt Nancy Tonkin. She's been roasting her stuffed turkey the way her mother taught her and serving it on the family's 1920s china platter since 1987.
That's the year her mother, also named Nancy, got sick and Tonkin and her father, Bud Tonkin, took over turkey roasting duty at the family home in Clarksburg.
The Tonkins are big on tradition. Their routine hasn't changed much through the years. For many families, the days when the matriarch prepared a labor-intensive meal and served it at a well-laid table has given way to more convenient foods perhaps served on plastic ware. Family members might gather around the television rather than the dining room.
"It's important because it's a celebration of family time spent together. It doesn't take a whole lot more time to make a pretty dinner," Tonkin said. "My mother always did take the time to prepare and make the table pretty. We continue to enjoy that."
Nancy, who lives in Nitro, and her two brothers, John of Weston and Tim of Charleston, remember that their father rarely went grocery shopping, but he always accompanied their mother to select the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. He'd pick the biggest one he could find. Their roaster, always the same one, of course, could accommodate a 20-22 pound bird.
"Dad would manhandle that turkey, salting it inside and then stuffing it," Nancy said. A Tonkin family cookbook with instructions for roasting a turkey notes that he was also known for his skill in sewing up the stuffed bird and binding its legs with string.
After roasting for 20 minutes per pound, he transferred the burnished turkey to a blue and white Copeland Spode serving platter and carried it to the head of the dining room table. In a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, the family sat in their nice clothes, while they watched him carve it at a table set with Tonkin's mother's gold-rimmed bone china.
"I always feel closer to Mom and Dad when I cook the turkey. Our family enjoys the tradition of turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Tonkin, who said she always receives many compliments on the turkeys she still prepares for the family holiday gatherings, which are now held the home of Tim and his wife, Veronica.
Tonkin roasts the turkey at her home, and then transports it to her brother's house. "When she pulls up with the turkey, we all jump up because the turkey's here," said Veronica Tonkin.
The turkey is stuffed with a traditional cornbread stuffing that Tonkin makes with lots of fresh parsley and sage, usually from her own garden, and leftover cornbread, which she usually has on hand after making chili and cornbread the day before Thanksgiving.
She chops extra celery, onions and fresh herbs and saves them for the turkey soup she'll make the following day. Leftover gravy goes into the soup, which is thicker than the clear broth soup many people make from their turkey carcass.
Tonkin made and served the complete turkey dinner photographed for this story on Sunday, but that won't excuse her from doing it all again in a few weeks for the family's Thanksgiving celebration. Her mother tried that one year when she served a standing rib roast instead of turkey. Although it was delicious, the family vetoed it for future holiday dinners.
"We wanted turkey," she said.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
@recipe hed:Tonkin Turkey
@recipe:1 turkey, thawed
1 recipe dressing
1/2 cup butter
1-2 tablespoons flour
@recipedir:REMOVE turkey wrapping and set in sink full of water. Remove neck and bag of giblets. Remove turkey from sink and pat dry.
the cavity liberally. Stuff bird with dressing, placing remaining dressing in baking dish.
stuffed turkey in roasting pan.
butter and add flour to make a paste. Brush all over the turkey and add salt. Add 2 to 3 cups of water to roasting pan and cover.
at 325 degrees for 20 minutes per pound until legs and wings are falling off.
The USDA recommends that turkeys reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
@recipe hed:Nancy's Cornbread Dressing
@recipe:2 bags dried cornbread intended for stuffing
1/2 pound leftover cornbread, if available
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
1 1/2 cup chopped apple
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh sage, chopped
Poultry seasoning, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste