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Alternatives To Tom Turkey

OUR magazine for Maine improbably suggested an alternative to traditional Thanksgiving goodies - a crispy roast duck with blueberry chutney. Adhering, all the same, to my endemic ignorance, I'm leary of crackling from a mallard, but will not make an issue of that at this time. Blueberries I know about, and I remember:At the village store in Ascutney It does no good to ask them for chutney. You can beg, you can tease, You can go to your knees - It'll do you no good, they ain't gutney.

Chutney is an East Indian relish with sweet and sour ingredients spiced, which makes Ascutney sound like a fine place to live. To introduce chutney into the traditional Maine Thanksgiving fare suggests a wild combination of audacity and folly, and the last I knew, a merganser gentleman of advanced age, if boiled a week with the cover on, will titillate the human palate to an imperceptible degree. Thanksgiving is no time to divert pie lumber to pickles. Memories nag, and mine have just nagged. I've told about my boyhood chum, Eddie Skillin, off and on here. He and I did wonderful things in diverse ways. We tented out, ran the ridges, made things, did nothing, played Robin Hood, and shunned evil companions in an unstinting effort to make our Maine boyhoods remarkable. It was Eddie's mother Bertha (she was a Pratt) who suggested an alternative to traditional Thanksgiving goodies one year. Eddie and I had fetched in some pa'tridges one day, and she baked 'em in a pie to widespread applause. Since I had assisted in acquiring these birds, I stayed for supper, and during the ingestion Bertha had said she would make a pa'tridge pie for Thanksgiving breakfast if Eddie and I would find the pa'tridges. A pa'tridge, in Maine, is a grouse; we don't have any partridges. The spruce grouse, found in the deeper woods, is permanently protected, and the ruffed grouse should be. The ruffed grouse is the bird the Associated Press always calls "ruffled," and on opening day of the gunning season this is journalistically acceptable if ornithologically incorrect. Since the days of Eddie and me the woods have moved farther into the countryside and the ruffed grouse with them. Eddie and I, planning to oblige his mother, would scout the puckerbrush all summer so we knew where to find birds when Thanksgiving drew nigh. The first year Bertha opined there would be pie enough so we could invite 10 guests for breakfast. We decided on 10, and they all came. Eddie's mother got up extra early that Thanksgiving morning, and used the big tin dishpan for the pie. She inverted an ironstone crockery mug in the middle of the pan, so the crust wouldn't sag, and she built the pie around the mug - potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, and the clear, white pa'tridge meat, which has no gastronomic competitor whatever. The pie was steaming hot and ready for the table when our selected guests arrived, quite ready for this alternative Thanksgiving delight. Thus a pleasant custo m began, and a hot pa'tridge pie for Thanksgiving breakfast continued until Eddie and I finished high school and were no longer available as providers. My mother offered to bake the pie one year, but Eddie's mother said it was her idea, and she was stuck with it. Pa'tridges wax and wane in cycles, as do other birds and animals, so there was one year the pie had but one wild bird and two fat barnyard hens. Best we could do. If anybody noticed this, he said nothing, and nobody complained that blueberry chutney was lacking. I don't for one minute suggest everybody go for a big pa'tridge pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. I'm one who likes to see nobody's moccasin tracks in the woods save mine, and over the years I've lost my boyhood desire for the chase. I'm merely saying that if the big tom turkey with all the fixin's, down to the plum pudding, is to be scrapped in Maine living for a crispy duck and chutney, things have come to a pretty pass. Even if it's just in my nagging memory, and dimmed by many years, I have a better idea.

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