Need last-minute tips on how to wow your guests on Thanksgiving? Look no further than Marge Klindera and the rest of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Experts.For most of the year, Marge Klindera is a mild-mannered Midwestern grandma. But as Thanksgiving nears, she acquires superpowers. We’re not talking about X-ray vision or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but ask the folks who’ve been bailed out of trouble with timely bits of cooking advice from this supervisor at Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line, and they’ll tell you she’s a hero, all right.
Butterball has about 50 trained experts on its staff. Begins Nov. 1 at 9 a.m. EST Ends Dec. 25 at 5 p.m. EST Phone lines are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST most days in November and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST most days in December (though they open at 7 a.m. EST on Thanksgiving Day).
Assistance is available in English and Spanish.
Questions are also now fielded via Facebook and Twitter.
When ordinary citizens find themselves faced with a delightful gathering of friends and family in the living room and a debacle in the kitchen, they can turn to Klindera or about 50 other Turkey Talk-Line Experts like her who resolve turkey and trimming issues faster than a speeding bullet from their nerve center in Naperville, Ill. American Way caught up with Klindera to get the good word on the holiday bird.
American Way: How did the Turkey Talk-Line come about?
Marge Klindera: It started in 1981. We started with an 800 number, which was a brand-new thing. We had six or seven home economists answering phones. That year, we received 11,000 calls. The next year, we increased our staff to 23. Then the following year, we increased it again to 45 or 50. I started in 1983.
AW: How has it changed over the years?
MK: It’s gotten much easier because of electronics. When the Talk-Line first began, we used a Rolodex with some information in it. Now we have computers and can disseminate information more easily.
AW: What are the most common questions you get?
MK: Year after year, it’s about thawing a frozen turkey. Most turkeys are purchased frozen. They need plenty of time to thaw (in the refrigerator). We suggest one week.
AW: Do people ever get emotional or panicky?
MK: Oh, definitely. We get calls from the brand-new cook — the new-bride sort of thing — or the experienced cook who hasn’t cooked in a few years. I had a lady of about 75 call for advice and say, “You must think it’s strange me calling for the first time, but my mother has always cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and she isn’t with us anymore.”
AW: Do the Turkey Talk-Line Experts have a Thanksgiving dinner while they’re working?
MK: We did that one year, but we don’t really have time to eat a turkey dinner. We usually have soup — something soothing for the throat. Some people have lost their voices from talking so much.
AW: Have you yourself learned a lot about cooking over the years from the mistakes callers have made?
MK: I’ve learned a lot about what not to do. One lady didn’t have room in the fridge, so she thought she’d put the turkey out in the snow bank, where it was under 40 degrees, so it would thaw the turkey. Then it snowed overnight, and she couldn’t find her turkey.
Marge Klindera’s Favorite Turkey Recipe
Turkey with Apricot-Chestnut Stuffing
• Servings: 16
• Cook method: Bake/roast
• Prep: 40 minutes
• Cook: 2-plus hours
• Ready: 3-plus hours
• 1 (16-ounce) loaf of sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/2 cup slivered almonds
• 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
• 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
• 4 teaspoons poultry seasoning
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped chestnuts
• 1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots
• 1/2 cup raisins
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 1 (16-pound) Butterball Fresh or Frozen Whole Turkey, thawed if frozen
• Nonstick cooking spray
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spread bread cubes on bottom of large, shallow baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until light golden, stirring once. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in large skillet on medium heat. Add almonds. Cook and stir 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove with slotted spoon. Set aside. Add onion and celery to remaining butter. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in poultry seasoning and salt.
3. Combine bread cubes, vegetables, chestnuts, apricots, raisins and almonds. Add broth; mix well.
4. Reduce oven to 325°F.
5. Remove neck and giblets from body and neck cavities of turkey. Refrigerate for another use or discard.
6. Drain juices from turkey. Dry turkey with paper towels.
7. Fill neck cavity with part of the stuffing. Turn wings back to hold neck skin against back of turkey. Fill body cavity with remaining stuffing.
8. Place turkey, breast side up, on flat roasting rack in shallow roasting pan. Spray turkey with cooking spray. Place small pieces of aluminum foil over skin of neck cavity and over stuffing at body-cavity opening to prevent overbrowning during roasting.
9. Roast turkey 4 1/2 hours or until meat thermometer reaches 165°F when inserted in center of stuffing and 180°F when inserted deep in thigh. Cover breast and top of drumsticks with aluminum foil after 3 hours to prevent overcooking of the breast.
10. Let turkey stand 15 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.
If using fresh chestnuts, 1 pound will yield about 2 1/2 cups peeled nuts. To roast fresh chestnuts, cut an X with the tip of a knife on the flat side. Heat oven to 425°F. Place nuts in a shallow pan and roast 20 minutes. When just cool enough to handle, peel off shell and dark skin covering nut.
If using canned chestnuts, a 15-ounce can or jar will yield 2 1/2 cups peeled nuts.