No matter how dreadful your holiday dinner disaster story is, chances are Mary Clingman can top it.
After 27 years as one of the reassuring voices on the other end of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, she has heard just about everything.
"One of the first calls was a lady who called and said her kitchen was on fire," Clingman recalls. "I told her to hang up and call the fire department."
This is prime time for the operators who staff the cooking hotlines that help Americans navigate the mishaps, blunders and outright silliness sometimes involved in preparing holiday feasts.
And thanks to all those blunders, people like Robyn Sargent have great stories to tell. Sargent is a baking instructor at King Arthur Flour Co. in Norwich, Vt., who helped launch the company's Baker's Hotline. Her favorite disaster story involves a woman who called while trying to bake bread.
Sargent says the woman described how the dough she had put in the oven to rise was oozing out the sides of her oven and gushing onto the floor in volcano-like bursts.
Turns out the recipe had called for a packet of yeast. Sargent says the woman didn't realize the recipe meant a 2 1/4-teaspoon packet, not the 1-pound package she had bought.
At the Ocean Spray Consumer Helpline, calls have ranged from weird ("Can I dye my hair with your cranberry juice?") to disturbing ("Can I give cranberry juice to my cat for its bladder infection?").
Speaking of cats, one caller to the Foster Farms Turkey Helpline wanted to know how to fix a turkey that the family cat had chewed holes into prior to roasting. Foster Farms spokeswoman Teresa Lenz says the woman was urged to buy a new bird.
Then there's Clingman's kitty litter incident.
A caller from Georgia wanted advice from the Butterball folks on cooking a turkey inside her husband's new gas grill. The catch was that her husband didn't want the grill to get dirty, so he'd filled it with kitty litter to absorb the grease.
Would it be OK to grill the turkey with the litter? No, Clingman didn't think so.
Need help with your holiday cooking? Here's where to turn:
- Crisco Pie Hotline: (877) 367-7438
- Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: (800) BUTTERBALL or www.butterball.com
- Empire Kosher poultry customer hotline: (800) 367-4734 or www.empirekosher.com/index.htm
- Fleischmann's Yeast Baker's Help Line: (800) 777-4959
- Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: (800) 255-7227 or www.fosterfarms.com
- General Mills: (800) 446-1898
- King Arthur Flour Co.'s Bakers Hotline: (802) 649-3717 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nestle Toll House Baking Information Line: (800) 637-8537
- Ocean Spray consumer help line: (800) 662-3263 or www.oceanspray.com
- Perdue consumer help line: (800) 473-7383 or www.perdue.com
- Reynolds Turkey Tips Hotline (800) 745-4000 or www.reynoldskitchens.com
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: (888) 674-6854 or www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education/index.asp