Michael Dukakis would very much like your turkey carcass
This story was first published on Nov. 25, 2015.
You’ve carefully stuffed, cooked, and carved the turkey. You’ve sliced up all the extra pieces, packing them in tinfoil for leftovers. And you may think you’ve used every possible aspect of that turkey.
You’d be wrong. Michael Dukakis would very much like your turkey carcass.
In his tidy Brookline kitchen, the state’s former governor and onetime Democratic presidential nominee has had a quirky but endearing tradition legendary among family and friends. He collects Thanksgiving turkey carcasses to make soup for his extended family for the year to come.
The man is renowned for his thriftiness — he drinks coffee bought in bulk at Costco, at 3 cents per cup — and he preserves every last element of the Thanksgiving dinner. Right down to the bone.
“Throwing out a turkey carcass is sinful. Absolutely sinful,” Dukakis says, in all seriousness. “It’s a terrible thing to do. There’s so much richness and goodness in a turkey carcass, God.”
So eager is Dukakis to gather turkey carcasses that he offers his home address (see below) for anyone who wants to drop one off.
He preserves the carcasses, stuffing seven or eight of them in his freezer after each Thanksgiving, which on its own is quite a feat, requiring sharp scissors to get the bones down to a more reasonable size.
“You cut them up. And wrap them up,” he says. “You can fit them in there as easily as possible. When the time comes, you pull them out.”
Throughout the course of the year, once every month or two, he removes one of the carcasses. He gets out a pot. He pours enough water to cover the bones, adds an onion, and lets it simmer for at least three hours. He cleans the meat off the bones, he adds in rice and any assortment of vegetables (“Peas are good. Carrots are good”). He heats it up, and relishes the smell that permeates the house on Perry Street.
Listening to an 82-year-old man who has been eating this concoction since his mother made it for him as a boy, it’s hard to imagine anything tastier.
“There’s no better meal!” he says. “Healthy. And delicious.”
It’s all part of Dukakis’s aversion to waste — be it fat in the state budget, litter on the street, or turkey bones in the trash after Thanksgiving.
In some ways, this turkey tradition started in childhood.
“I used to love the after-feast turkey soup my mother made,” Dukakis recalls. “It was better than the feast.”
But really, it’s a tradition that he began within his own household two decades ago.
“It all started when my dear wife after 23 years of marriage — and she was a good cook, I must say — one day said, ‘That’s it, I’m not cooking any longer,’ ” he said. “Just like that. At the time the only thing I knew how to make was French toast. So I was confronted with a choice: Starve or start cooking. So I’ve been doing all the cooking the last 29 years.
“I should also add one of our favorite purchases at Costco is rotisserie chicken,” he continues. “They sell them for $4.95. Kitty and I must get 10 meals out of them.”
First, he says, they eat the chicken itself. Then, just as he does with the turkey carcass, he uses the chicken carcass to make soup. The soups, particularly hearty ones, have become a bit of a specialty of his.
He says he also makes anadama bread using a 20-year-old bread maker (with a basic bread recipe, but adding cornmeal and molasses) and Greek salad using vegetables grown in his backyard garden.
“When you’ve got that cooking and you’ve got a loaf of bread in the bread maker, the fragrance in the kitchen is just spectacular. Especially on a nippy fall day.”
“For some reason my grandkids just love this,’’ he says. “They eat bowls and bowls of it.”
The grandkids confirm part of this.
“We roll our eyes and laugh,” says Ali Dukakis, who is one of a dozen grandchildren. “Any wincing that we have is not reflected on him. He could not care less. That’s why he’s a special person.”
When Dukakis travels for Thanksgiving, the carcass that’s left travels back home with him. Often, it’s packed in the car, but one year when they took the train, the carcass did, too.
“My grandmother was so embarrassed that he’d taken the carcass on the train,” Ali Dukakis says. “But we just laugh about it.”
Two years ago, Dukakis went to Washington, where Ali works at ABC News, and insisted on buying a turkey to carve up in her studio apartment.
He also insisted on carrying the carcass with his luggage back home to Brookline.
After making each batch, he stores half of it in the refrigerator and half in the freezer, removing it for a lunch or a dinner meal. “A turkey carcass,” he notes, “will yield a lot of soup.”
“If you freeze these things they’re good for months,” he says. “Just take them out when you have a hankering, let it thaw out and have some soup. Lunches, dinners, everything.”
It took him nearly a year to finish off the last of the turkey carcasses from Thanksgiving 2014, clearing the freezer of the space needed for this year over the weekend.
And just as it has become a Dukakis tradition to preserve turkey carcasses, it has become a tradition for some of his friends to drop off their picked-over turkeys at his house.
“I’m collecting if you know anybody. People throw this thing out — it’s crazy!” he says.
“Tell your readers under no circumstances should they do that,” he adds. “They should use the carcass. And if they don’t want to, tell them to come to 85 Perry Street in Brookline. We’ll make full use of it, believe me.”