Talking Turkey Turns 40

Talking Turkey Turns 40 title=
(Image: New York Public Library)
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By Betsy J. Green

This is the busy season for the experts who answer questions at the Butterball Turkey Company. Years ago (way back when in 1993), I interviewed a woman who had been in charge of the company’s turkey hotline since it began in 1981. Here are some snippets from that conversation.

In 1993, she and 48 others answered 8,000 telephone calls a day in the years before the advice givers went online. Communication had been even more primitive in 1981, she remembered. “There were just six home economists answering the phones then. In 1981, no one had heard of 800 numbers. Most of the people who called us were just amazed that they could make a long-distance call for free,” she said.

Some callers are very tense, she told me. “Thanksgiving is a very emotional holiday for lots of people. They want everything just perfect and they get themselves so nervous.”

A caller who identified herself as Julia Child called the turkey hotline one year. “She said she was calling to find out what we say about preventing turkeys from getting dry.”

The most common question is, “How can I cook the perfect turkey?” The most unusual call? One of the staff members [in 1993] spoke to a woman in a cabin in Alaska who asked how to thaw her turkey. (Usually, the hotline staffers recommend thawing turkey in the refrigerator.) But when the home economist heard that it was only 40 degrees in the cabin, she told the caller it was OK to thaw the turkey in her kitchen!

Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1919 -- is now available in local bookstores and at This is the sixth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at​.
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