What has Butterball learned in 365 days?

I saw it mentioned in a column the other day… the famous Butterball hotline. Closing in on 30-years of advice and information, troubleshooting and problem solving, the hotline gets turkey lovers through the holiday season.

So serious is this subject to many that Butterball actually runs Butterball University… a training program for new hotline operators, featuring thick binders and students that all have outstanding food-service credentials.

And as you would hope considering the ideas involved… saving people from holiday tragedies and horrendous mistakes… there are horror stories galore from the history of the hotline. Current estimates are that for roughly two months they will field over one hundred thousand calls. That number could be higher… but I think something interesting has happened which may cut into Butterball’s messages. See, they’re not the only holiday hotline available. Crisco has a pie hotline. Fleischmann’s has one for baking. Ocean Spray has one. (Apparently for all of those questions about which sherbet to serve with which juice. Personally, I usually go with a rainbow sherbet with apple juice.) General Mills and Nestle Toll House are in there as well. And poultry… wow… for poultry there’s Perdue, Reynolds, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And all of this got me wondering about something seemingly unrelated. What do you traditionally put on your holiday table?

For me, it’s Mom’s pecan rolls. Not even close. You could swap out everything else, potentially including the turkey itself, but as long as the pecan rolls make it to the meal, we’re good.

I gave this pecan roll thing a lot of thought. I happen to be thankful for the pearl onions on the table. Don’t see them often during the year… so they’re a nice little change, and I’m always looking for them when it’s time to make sandwiches later. Terry and Mom like turnips. And canned corn has caused quite a few spirited debates. (Yuck is the word that comes to mind. But some day I’ll pass on the great canned corn Thanksgiving horror story to you. Good stuff.) But after all consideration was given, I feel extremely comfortable in saying that if I polled the family, Mom’s pecan rolls would be the most noted item that is required on our holiday tables.

Desserts do bring us into a new area entirely though. I always ask for a delicious chocolate pecan pie… which wouldn’t replace the rolls for me. It’s just a personal favorite. That said, there is a request for blueberry pie that makes it a staple of the dinner, and Mom would likely be more concerned about making sure blueberry pie was in the house than the rolls. I understand her dedication to pleasing everyone, but those pecan rolls simply can’t be topped.

Honestly, there just isn’t a single item other than these rolls that tempts every person in the room.

How does this involve Butterball and the hotline?

Well… I’m sort of wondering how many people change the way they cook turkeys from year to year. And that means I guess I’m asking… why? Why do we need Butterball University? Once you cook a turkey… or once you get involved in taking over the family traditions… don’t some things stay the same? Shouldn’t a person that successfully delivered turkey dinner last year… the past five years… the past since before most of the guests were born years… be able to deliver it again without the help of Butterball U?

Apparently not.

Because if you read those horror stories on the internet, you’ll find out that people want to know if it’s ok to leave the turkey in the bathtub with the children. (I actually gave some thought to this one. It’s a thinker. Really. What makes a person decide to wash the children and toss in a turkey? A plastic boat… a toy frog… sure. But the turkey? And all I can come up with is that idea of defrosting of a turkey in a sink filled with water. Turkey gets in the way in the sink, or maybe it’s just too big for the sink… so put it in the tub. And if the kids need a bath, the idea becomes is it ok to just leave the turkey there and work around it, then let it go get back to its thawing when bath time is done. I’m not saying that makes sense. I’m just saying it’s the best I can come up with having not consumed much alcohol during the time I gave to the thought.)

Apparently not, because many people change things up from year to year. A new stuffing. The differences between stuffing and not stuffing the bird. And the really different, including the legendary deep-fried turkey.

Apparently not, because people think that things that get hot… washing machines and car engines… can heat a turkey.

But the reality is… take away the people that are making their first turkeys… and take away people that are trying something new. And once again I’m left with the thought… if a turkey is part of your annual tradition, how many questions are you going to encounter?

Mom makes the pecan rolls. Oh… sure… others in the family have tried to make the pecan rolls. It’s never the same. That’s her job… that’s the tradition.

There must be something different that causes dozens of thousands of people to call about how to cook their turkey. Does Butterball know something today about turkey preparation that they didn’t have available last year or the year before that? What do they know today that they didn’t know 365-days ago that they can tell me so I will be able to cook a turkey? What do they know that the little pop-up-thingy doesn’t know?

When people can be so unaware of what is taking place that they leave a plastic bag filled with turkey guts inside the turkey during the cooking process… what does the Butterball University graduate know that allows them to connect with those people and make sense of a pending disaster?

Well… for me the best teacher is usually observation and experience. See, this year when the bird just wouldn’t heat those last few degrees, we found out that these hotlines do work. Even the most tested of turkey preparers might need some help now and then. I was on the web site of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, looking up the safe-service temperatures of a turkey. And I’m happy to report a wonderful meal was enjoyed by all.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com