Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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November 17, 2012

Turkey tradition returns Tuesday

It’s unclear exactly how long the United Methodist Women have been cooking up turkey spaghetti for sale this time each year, but more than 35 years is a pretty good guess.

On Friday, three brave cooks were once again facing the final push to produce 500 servings of the rich dish before spooning it into plastic quart dishes and freezing it. Ann Stites, kitchen boss, and her two intrepid sous chefs Donna Jackson and Lisa Updegrove, each knew their jobs and set out fairly independently to do them.

Stites has been doing this for nine years and although she’ll oversee the preparation of more than 1,000 servings of the dish before the last ladle is scooped out Tuesday, she doesn’t make the dish for her own family, and only one of her sons looks forward to turkey spaghetti each year. No one else in the family really likes it, and Stites herself is done with it after the Harvest Festival.

“After it’s over, I don’t even want to see a turkey,” she admitted.

For the uninitiated, turkey spaghetti is a rich pasta dish traditionally made with left-over turkey from the Thanksgiving feast. Around Corsicana, though, it’s a pre-Thanksgiving appetizer, a warm-up for what’s to come in two days.

The recipe was developed for large groups by Ruth Morris, who was the kitchen boss at First United Methodist Church in the 1970s and ‘80s, and who ramrodded everything from church suppers and MYF snacks to church cookbooks. The dish’s foundations lie in the post-World War II cookery style, which demanded huge bricks of processed cheese and rich dollops of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups.

It’s a diet disaster, of course, but turning it down would be like rejecting Grandma’s sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on top. It’s tradition. It’s delicious. You can’t not eat it.

Donna Jackson grew up with the tradition, and she and her family embrace its return each year like a cheesy starchy Easter Bunny.

“I buy some and eat it over the holidays,” Jackson said.

In order to pull off the miracle of the turkey spaghetti, Stites sets aside $2,000 from the women’s group’s budget with which to buy groceries. She buys 30 turkeys and sends them home with church members, who cook the birds, debone them, and chop up the meat. She and the women of the three circles then combine the meat with pot after pot of boiled spaghetti, canned soups, Velveeta, chilis, mushrooms and other tasty additions.

The numbers are staggering.

Before Tuesday, they will have prepared 270 quarts of frozen spaghetti. On Tuesday morning, they’ll arrive at 3 a.m. to start preparing an additional 650 servings to be dished up fresh to the community, alongside green beans, salad and homemade desserts.

An $8 ticket will buy either a lunch, or a quart of frozen spaghetti. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Take-out is also available. The church is located at 320 North 15th Street in Corsicana.

The money raised from the luncheon and the accompanying bake sale and silent auction will go towards the group’s favorite “missions” which include the House of Refuge, The Child Advocacy Center, Family Services, the Salvation Army, and Rainbow Room, as well as the Methodist Boy’s Home in Waco.

Guests can thank the cooks on that day, who can be easily tracked by their casserole perfume.

“Our clothes will smell like this when we’re done,” Updegrove said, smiling slightly. “You go home smelling like it.”

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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