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Thanksgiving Dinner E-Nini-Hassee Style

Guest post by Jo Lynn Smith, Director, E-Nini-Hassee: Outdoor Therapeutic School for Girls

Thanksgiving ENH
Turkey in the Hole is an E-Nini-Hassee tradition!

Everyone prepares for Thanksgiving a little differently. For some the preparations start weeks ahead of time with invitations, decorations and menu planning. At Eckerd’s E-Nini-Hassee the holidays themselves bring about many issues that most people never consider.

The process begins about 3 weeks prior to “Turkey Day” when wood is gathered. We are not talking about pieces wood.  We are talking about WOOD. There are about 35 girls at E-Nini-Hassee and many of them begin taking tractor rambles and scouting expeditions through the 840 acres gathering oak and pine. Several days before Thanksgiving a large hole, approximately twelve feet by six feet, is staked out in the front field. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving each group, which has about 10 girls in it, will take turns digging the hole. It takes every child help dig the hole six feet deep.

The next step in the process is to prepare the Turkey. To feed all of the children and staff takes no less than eight twenty-five pound turkeys. The turkeys must thaw all day and in the evening. Each group has at least one turkey to prepare. The ingredients to prepare the turkeys are: salt, pepper, butter and ice.  After each turkey has been salted, peppered and buttered, ice is stuffed in the cavity to keep the moisture in. After the turkey has been “dressed”, it is wrapped tightly in heavy duty tin foil about 10 times. Extra care is taken with the wings and legs to make sure they do not get burned and all that moist goodness stay inside. Each turkey is given a special name by the group that prepared it.

Thanksgiving (2)
Safety first! Staff carefully pulls out turkeys.

Once the evening is progressing nicely and anticipation is mounting. Thirty-five girls and staff head to start cooking their “Turkeys in a Hole.” A fire is lit in the bottom of the large pit, and each member standing around the fire is given a stick. After a few songs the girls begin to go around the circle stating what they are thankful for and throw their stick in the fire. Most of the girls state they are thankful for E-Nini-Hassee and the second chance they have received. Many say they are thankful for Mr. and Mrs. Eckerd for providing them with a place they can work out their problems. After each member has gone, one special group is chosen to stay up all night and feed the fire. This is a great honor for the group that is chosen!

Around 5:00 am the fire is allowed to die down so only coals and embers remain. At 7:00 all the groups arrive and the turkeys are brought out. The groups say goodbye to the turkeys. Then, with the help of some courageous staff a small indention is made in the coals and one at a time each of the turkeys is dropped in the hole. Coals are gingerly placed on top of the turkeys and the hole is covered with 2 feet of sand. We say so long to our birds and wait for the magic to take place.

After 8 hours pass and as the girls are getting dressed for the Thanksgiving meal, several staff reconvene at the hole to find the turkeys. The sand is shoveled away carefully as staff look for the small signs of the turkeys sticking through. As anticipation rises each staff tries to be the first to find a bird. Most of the turkeys are easy to find but there are always one or two that seem to move around in the hole and are difficult to locate. As the crowd gathers for the meal, the turkeys are removed from the hole, the tin foil is removed by gloved hands and the aroma begins to float through the air. Of course there always has to be some taste testing before the birds hit the table. The smell of the cooked Turkeys is so unique and is sure to get everyone’s mouthwatering.

As the turkeys are laid on the Thanksgiving platter, all eyes look in amazement at the magic that was created. The turkeys are brown and moist and ready to be enjoyed by all!