Turkeys

Chocolate turkeys at Vasilow’s in Hudson, N.Y. The author says that any Thanksgiving at his house that occurs without this attention-getting confection would be just as dour as a sweet potato casserole bereft of marshmallows, a buffet of desserts that didn’t include pumpkin pie, or no Thanksgiving at all.

When I spoke with my daughter over the phone and she expressed her fears about coming to our house for Thanksgiving — she was more concerned for our health than hers — I issued a not-so-veiled threat: I informed her that if she fails to show up, she’s not getting her annual chocolate turkey.

Between timely COVID tests, face masks and social distancing, I think our family should be able to pull off the holiday in typically festive spirit. And for me, festive means not just turkey, stuffing, gravy and all the sides, but a miniature chocolate gobbler wrapped in colorful tinfoil by each place setting.

Any Thanksgiving at our house that occurs without this attention-getting confection would be just as dour as a sweet potato casserole bereft of marshmallows, a buffet of desserts that didn’t include pumpkin pie, or no Thanksgiving at all.

I’m frankly facing something of a requisition crisis regarding the little critters this year. For most of my life I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in New York City, where foil-wrapped turkeys are native. I’m less sanguine about locating them upstate. My impression is that they’re not the kind of thing you find at your local supermarket or CVS.

I’m not suggesting that chocolate turkeys are hoity-toity. But, they are a bit more refined than the typical offerings in the candy aisle. However, here’s my dilemma: On a un-Thanksgiving-related run to Vasilow’s last week, an old-fashioned tin-ceiling candy store in Hudson, N.Y., I spied a flock of handsome chocolate turkeys in the correct size.

Size matters. As a chocolate lover, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a chocolate turkey that’s too large — life-size sounds about right — but the metrics of the cheerful Thanksgiving dinner table are different and more complicated.

For starters, your chocolate turkey is competing for space against lots of other stimuli — gravy boats, cranberry platters, bread plates, butter dishes and perhaps a festive autumnal floral arrangement. Also, by the time dinner is over, you’re probably so stuffed that the last thing you need is more sugar.

Nonetheless, a 4-inch foil-wrapped turkey lends a holiday table an elegance that nothing else, except perhaps candlelight, can quite match. If you’re stuffed, you’re free to take it home and nosh on it later. Whether to start at the head or the feet is a question probably best left for another occasion.

But, here’s my problem: Vasilow’s version comes wrapped only in a cellophane bag. In milk, white or dark chocolate. My personal preference is milk, since dark chocolate feels unnecessarily sober and self-restrained at a feast known for excess. Don’t get me started on white chocolate, which, technically, isn’t even chocolate at all.

However, the larger issue is whether a chocolate turkey that isn’t wrapped in multicolor tinfoil qualifies as authentic? I understand there are more significant issues facing us at the moment. Not just a pandemic, but associated questions, such as what happens if I buy chocolate turkeys for the whole family and nobody shows up? I wouldn’t feel right trying to return them the day after.

I’m not sure how the chocolate turkey tradition began in our family, aside from the fact that a sweet tooth is one of our genetic markers. We used to celebrate Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ apartment, and one year, some kind and gracious friend or relative thought to place the aforementioned treat at each grandchild’s seat.

Hence, a tradition was born.

After my grandparents passed away and the party moved to my parents’ home, I appointed myself the official chocolate turkey wrangler.

Also, I decided to interpret “child” in the most expansive terms. My brothers and I — all now officially in our 60s — still qualify as kids, as do our own children and now their children. Spouses are out because, while one chocolate turkey is affordable, a dozen or more start to get into real money. Whether to share one’s turkey is best left to the peculiar dynamics of individual marriages.

Also, I’m starting to gather I’m not the typical adult. Most people of a certain age aren’t as excited by the prospect of a chocolate turkey as I am and try to pawn them off on others. As thrilled as I am by a foil-wrapped companion roosting on my nightstand, one is more than sufficient, according to my physician.

Ending the Thanksgiving meal with adults protesting their waistlines and trying to foist their chocolate birds on anybody who will take them, I find sad and depressing and not what I intended when I went out of my way to acquire them.

Having said that, I’ve come to a decision: Given the challenges of the current pandemic, the uncertain guest list, my desire to support local businesses and the meticulous beauty of Vasilow’s chocolate turkeys, I’m going to put aside my foil-wrapped requirements for this year and this year alone.

I might even buy my daughter a turkey, whether she shows up or not. Another attraction of chocolate turkeys is that they taste just as good weeks and months later.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He can be reached at ralph@ralphgardner.com.