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A deep-fried holiday tradition

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We published this editorial on Thanksgiving 10 years ago. Since enthusiasm for deep-frying turkeys seems not to have dimmed, we reprint it here as a public service.

“THERE IS a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.” That observation by the 19th-century German prime minister Otto von Bismarck has always seemed unnecessarily harsh to us, and it’s certainly not the right thing for Thanksgiving Day meditations, which tend to draw on the wisdom and eloquent expressions of gratitude of our forebears.

But then, our forebears never envisioned the culinary trend currently spreading across the great land and threatening to engulf Thanksgiving in flame — perhaps not to Bismarck’s great surprise. We are speaking of the deep-fried turkey, which is produced by plunging a whole, huge turkey into a pot of boiling oil and cooking it till it’s done. That is, if all goes well. If it doesn’t, what ensues are scenes of the kind you may have been viewing on cautionary segments of the local news this past week: hot oil pouring over the side of the turkey pot, hitting the fire and shooting skyward in a dramatic eruption high enough to ignite the backyard deck. Many dwellings have been lost in this way, and more likely will be as this formerly regional delicacy becomes a national enthusiasm. A computer search this week under “fried turkey” produced nearly 8,000 citations — recipes, recommendations, helpful hints — probably enough to burn down every house in America.

To be fair, turkey-frying (which seems to be done mostly by men) reflects features of the national character for which we can, as a nation, be thankful: inventiveness, imagination, a desire for excellence in all things, including poultry, and an unconquerable individuality. Unfortunately, it’s also a procedure that requires a very un-American degree of preparation, attention to detail and patience: thorough thawing of the turkey, meticulous measurements of oil and volumes, careful placement of the frying apparatus as far as possible from the house and other combustible structures. All this by men who are just trying their hands at a little holiday cooking.

It may be, as one recipe-writer on the Internet assures us, that deep-fried turkey is “worth the risk.” We think we’ll stick to conventional methods of preparation again this year, while still taking time to give thanks for all the benefits and especially the freedoms we enjoy, along with the things that sometimes accompany their exercise: fast, efficient fire and medical services, reliable insurance coverage and an abundance of back yards large enough to let us fry anything we care to.

Update: A computer search this week for “fried turkey” yielded 27,100,000 citations.

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