I have an interesting Thanksgiving Day story for you today, from The Washington Post of November 22, 1908. It concerns the Chinese ambassador, his conversion to vegetarianism, and his “turkey” dinner. The story is long, and my time at the moment is short, so I will give you the remainder of the menu tomorrow!
“When his excellency, Dr. Wu Ting-fang, the Chinese envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, arrived in Washington for the first time, 15 years ago, he was fortunate enough to be just in time for a real Thanksgiving dinner, and for some days afterward he was kept busy explaining to officials, friends, and newspaper folk just how much he thought of the bird that has only one life to give to its country – the real piece de resistance, a Thanksgiving turkey, stuffed and baked a delicate brown. He also has words of praise for the dishes so essential to a well-ordered turkey dinner – the cranberry jelly, quivering with daintiness, the crisp yellow celery, the brown gravy, and all the other “fixin’s.”
Dr. Wu is nothing if not an epicure, and for a number of years afterward each Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year day saw the damask-covered embassy table graced with a bowl of the beloved chrysanthemums, flanked by an enormous turkey, generous roasts of beef, with perhaps a baby pig dutiously sucking a small, rosy apple.
But one dark day a Washington society woman, a great friend of Minister Wu’s, drove up to the legation door an left, with her compliments, for the minister’s acceptance, a book on vegetarianism of which she was the author. With much pleasure, but a great deal of skepticism, Mr. Wu began the strongly written volume, and when he put it aside it was also to put aside forever meat in any form, coffee, and even the afternoon cup o’ tea, to say nothing of wine or any other alcoholic beverages. The Chinese ambassador had in a few days become a confirmed and decided vegetarian.
…. For a number of years Minister Wu has had the same Chinese chef in his entourage, and the good cook’s temper has been tried sorely on occasions, endeavoring to replace, in some degree, the meat that so long added zest, variety, and indeed, essentiality, to dinners given by the Chinese ambassador.
… No small body of thought and practice has the cook expended on what he considers to be the chef d’oeuvre of the culinary art – a meatless, turkeyless Thanksgiving turkey - the pseudo-turkey legs nicely trussed to the mock-turkey sides, the wings folded comfortably away – all there, apparently, begging to be carved this Thanksgiving day.
… “Will his excellency carve?”
He will, and he does, but he stops abruptly as a telltale “bone” appears. The butler, who shared the chef’s secret, explains to the minister. The “bones” of the “turkey” are nothing more nor less than sticks of macaroni cleverly inserted.
… The mock-turkey is interesting to prepare, as the chef explained to me in his fascinating, queer English. First, the white meat must be prepared, and this is done by mixing the following ingredients: One cup of boiled rice, one cup of mashed potatoes, one cup of toasted white bread crumbs, two cups of mixed nut meats, two eggs, two small onions, chopped very fine. For the dark meat, take two cups of cooked lima beans, two cups of lentil pulp, two cups of whole wheat breadcrumbs, two cups of nut meats (English and black walnuts,) two cups tomatoes, four eggs, three small onions, browned in butter, one-half cup of butter, salt to taste. The dressing or “stuffing” is made as for the real bird.
To build this rara avis is a work of art. Take the dark meat, form into a mold about two inches thick, and shape it into an oval. Take the dressing, pile it up like [the] body of a turkey, and put all around this the white meat, keeping in mind, all the time, the torso of a turkey.
After this is done, shape the breast and the back and put on the neck of dark meat and the wings of light. The legs are also to be formed of dark meat, and together with the wing are fastened to the body with skewers. Don’t by any means forget to insert the macaroni in the legs for bones. This is most important. Put in the oven and baste every ten minutes with a little gravy made of melted butter and a little hot water. Bake until brown (about half an hour) and garnish and serve, as doth my friend, the chef.”