Bonfire Night Pit Turkey

Midi Music Thomas Campion, 1567-1620, "Follow Thy Fair Sunne," 2k Lyrics

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The Steps to take to bake a tasty bird for the 5th! 

0. Thaw out your bird till it is about 3/4 unfrozen. I generally get a turkey of about 32-4 lbs. but any size would do -pork makes a good pit roast too as would beef. Then rub under the skin with spices and bag with any marinade in large trash bags. Pierce the bird to let in the marinade and spices. 
Double the bag to prevent leaks. Tie bag at top and  let the bird come to just below room temperature then refrigerate overnight while fire is burning. You will need about two boxes of collard leaves and about 2-3 yards of chicken wire to wrap a large turkey and veg. 

1. Dig the Pit -lay the rocks in the bottom and start the fire. The Rocks should be medium sized -6 inches to a foot long or larger at longest length. They should be packed so as to provide a flat surface. If you wish you  may stack up a few large rocks on one side so that they can be placed over the meat. I generally stack a layer of  about 18 inches thick of rock. (rocks can be used year after year I always take them out each year and re set them removing roots and soil which has come in between them. My rocks have lasted about 13 years but are now a bit too f ragmented and will require additional rock next year. To make your rocks last try not to put the fire out with cold water.) In the corner of the pit you should dig a depression about 8 inches square and a foot or so deep. This "sump" is used as a container for unburned coals. Leave enough flat area for the rocks and meat. My pit is about a yard and one half by one yard and is about a yard deep. Keep the walls straight.  It is important to save the soil in a container. A wheelbarrow is best. Keep the  soil covered so that if it rains it will not get wet. Also it is a good idea to keep the pit covered. I use a sheet aluminum (old porch awnings) roof set on top of landscape timbers about 8 feet off the ground. Beware! the roof gets quite hot even at that height so it should be of metal.  A light of some sort should also be provided so that you can see what you are doing when digging up the meat in the dark. 

2.  I generally burn the fire  from about dark over night then 
 go  in for about 3 hours sleep with large logs to keep the fire burning then 
come out and burn the fire till about 10:30 AM when the Turkey Goes in. The wood should fill the pit.  The fire should not be allowed to die down. 

3. While the fire is burning get out the chicken wire mesh (saved from the year before). 
 This should be about two and a half times wider than the bird and about one third longer. 
 (you want  enough at either side to wrap up and you need to overlap the wire by about 6 
 inches when binding.) 

4. Spread the mesh out on a table and cover it with a layer of collard leaves. Make sure that there are no spaces . You should lay 3 layers of leaves orienting the long dimension of the leaves of the new layer perpendicular to that of the previous layer. 

5. Once the leaves and the mesh are laid out place the meat (remove from plastic  bag!!!) on top of the leaves. Cover the meat with spices-oranges-lemons-onions-whatever!.  Ues a good  amount of your favorite  seasoning.  A wet marinade soak (overnight before cooking) tends to keep the meat moist during the cooking process. 

        Carrots and other hard veg make a good package too! I generally add exotic greens. Wrap the veg in twice as many collard leaves and keep from the heart of the pit. I usually place the veg on top of the meat packages as it cooks much faster. 
6.Cover the veg/meat with another two layers of collards once again crossing the layers at right angles to each other. Make sure that the food is covered then pull up the chicken wire over the collards so as to hold them in place over the meat. Make sure no meat is exposed. Pull the wire very tightly together -then when holding tight  insert a piece of coat hanger wire to fasten the mesh together. Bend the wire upwards to form a handle. Always remember    which side the breast of the turkey is on . This side of the package will face downward  toward the hot rocks. I keep breast up when fastening so that the seam is on the breast side and breast down when cooking that way the meat is at greatest distance from the soil and closer to the rodcks  at all times. Fold in the ends of the screen bending them flat to enclose the ends. It is very important to pack tightly as whatever you are cooking will shrink. 
7. While the fire burns in the morning let the meat warm up to just below room temperature in the house. 

8. As 10:30 (or your cooking time)  approaches add just enough wood to keep the fire burning. Let the coals burn down to ash. The fire should not be allowed to burn so fast and hot that charcoal accumulates. While waiting move the meat,veg and extra collards to the site of the pit. Have the dirt in the wheel barrow ready to quickly back fill the pit. 

9. When  the time for cooking comes quickly sweep any coals and ash from the hot rocks into the sump. I remove large chunks of burning wood to a metal can where they can burn and provide warmth.  Quickly throw in a generous layer of collard leaves  so that the rocks and ash are covered and then position the meat  packages breast side down over the hot rocks. Then cover the meat with more collards and if possible use a shovel to scoop up large rocks and lay them on top of the main meat packages over the collards. This should all be done very quickly 

Once the collards and rocks are in place cover the meat with a wet sheet being careful to fold the sheet in between the pit walls and the meat. Tuck it in. 

10.With the meat protected it is time to quickly push over the wheel barrow and  fill the pit  (quickly) in. The pit must be filled in to the top and then packed down by walking over the surface. 
(your guests will enjoy this!) Decorate the pit appropriately then wait till about 6:00PM 
to dig up the meat. We  generally set up the pit as a small shrine with incense and cut flowers. 
11. Dig up the meat by  removing most of the soil quickly being careful to stop just above the sheet. Keep the soil in a pile as you  will need to use this to re fill the pit. We generally make the excavation into a ritual.  We talk about the plot while taking rests from digging .  Then with the children gathered around the pits edge we toss one of them a hot rock-they can hardly believe what they are seeing and feeling!  An aromatic recipe is great as it will put the scents from the meat into the night air- once I did lemon turkey with a box of  fresh lemmons- the entire neighborhood smelled of fresh lemmons. Once most of the soil is off of the sheet using hand shovels and trowels remove the last remaining soil. Patience- do not rush -make sure the sheet is cleaned off. Carefully roll the sheet up from above the meat being careful not to let any soil enter. 

12.Lift out the meat packages-have gloves and trays ready they will be hot. 
Send the trays of meat in to the kitchen. We always gather the first timers into the kitchen to watch the process. You may wish to cover your kitchen floor with newspapers! Have a large trash can at the ready. 

13. Once in the kitchen carefully dust any soil off form the outside of the packages. Carefully clean the area under each package of stray soil. Remove the coat hanger wire and carefully unwrap. Remove only the wire mesh. Dust dirt off again if any. Then carefully flip the meat over to expose the cleanest (breast) side - the side which faced down toward the collard covered hot rocks. 

14. Using a knife slice open the collard package again watching for any soil. 
Open the package up rolling the layers of collards  away from the meat. 
The meat will be so tender that it will fall from the bone-

    Place on platters and serve. 
Have a garbage can ready for the soil, the collards,  and the wire mesh. Later rescue the wire for next year! ( we  find that a wire mesh lasts about two to three cookings) 

15.While the meat is being unwrapped  have some one rekindle the fire in the pit. Our fire laws require that fires be kept enclosed- be careful to obtain your local fire ordinances in advance. The rocks in the pit will remain hot for a few days - I once burned the soles out of a good pair of heavy boots 48 hours later!  I generally fill the pit in with garden debris and the original soil and then plant my summer crops right over it. 

Let us know how your pit cooking turned out! If you wrap it well and take time to cover and excavate properly   you will have a great and memorable dinner each time.  If you encounter problems  please let us know at the address below.  Send in images of your  pit -we would like to see how it went! 

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