All good recipes have good stories, and the story of how we acquired a “secret” family recipe for barbecued turkey is one of them. Grandpa Dee was a high school history teacher and driver’s ed instructor by day, but by night, he was a tax accountant. Hundreds of tax clients made the annual trek to his home for assistance with their income tax preparation, but one of our favorites was a man we will call “Floyd.” Every year, Floyd appeared on the porch with a shoebox full of receipts under one arm, and a box of frozen Sanpete County turkey roasts under the other. Like all good Sanpete County farm boys, the two of them knew the power of bartering. Grandpa Dee’s expertise was tax preparation, Floyd’s was raising turkeys, so Dee was paid in turkey, which was an arrangement that suited both businessmen. One year, Floyd brought something special. This was a new, “secret” family recipe that made barbecued turkey tenders “so delicious you won’t ever want to barbecue anything else ever again.” Floyd swore it was true.
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon horseradish powder
- 2 12-oz. cans lemon lime soda
- Mix first five marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour over 10 pounds of turkey breast and marinate for 24 hours.
- Discard marinade and grill turkey over medium hot coals until juices run clear. Serve hot.
Sanpete County Barbecued Turkey soon became a local legend, and in the small town of Ephraim, Utah, the annual Memorial Day Celebration features this same “secret” family recipe as a family fundraiser. Each year, a team of more than fifty members of the Robert and Ellen Anderson family work together to supply over 750 pounds of barbecued turkey tenders for an admiring crowd who form a line nearly a block long, waiting for their own plate of turkey and Piccadilly chips. The recipe came into the hands of the Anderson family via Dr. Carol Draper, who worked with turkey farmers in the area as part of her assignment with Utah State University’s Extension Service. The orginal recipe included white wine, but the Anderson family substitutes lemon lime soda.
The project began as a family fundraiser for Jack Anderson and his children, but as word spread and demand increased, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other willing volunteers expanded the project. Today, Jack and his brother, Gary, head the crew and organize the event which now funds two college scholarships and a sizable donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society each year. If the recipe was ever truly “secret,” it isn’t any longer. Any of the family members can produce a business card with a printed recipe upon request, and the sheer volume of effort involved in this family’s labor of love is worth a Memorial Day trip to Ephraim City’s Scandinavian Days Celebration.
Scandinavian Days celebrates the Danish, Swiss, Norwegian and Icelandic immigrants who converted to Mormonism during the 19th century and settled in concentrated communities in Sanpete and Sevier Counties. Hundreds of thousands of Utahns can point to one of these settlers in their family tree.
It’s an all-day labor of love to prepare 750 pounds of barbecued turkey breast tenders for an adoring crowd at “Scandinavian Days.” Four huge barbecue grills are kept full in order to feed the crowd efficiently. You can smell the grilling meat for blocks, which makes for great advertising.
Eight cast iron dutch ovens crank out a constant supply of Piccadilly English Chips.
Turkey isn’t the only culinary delight at the festival. An evening smorgasboard featuring Swedish meatballs and Danish roast pork with apple and cranberry dressing draws a huge crowd, and so does the Danish Ebilskiver breakfast. Like many of the small community celebrations in Utah, those in Sanpete County typically honor the founding fathers of the community, plus a signature “cash crop” that was popular or grown widely during the era when the the community was being settled. Danish immigrants brought rhubarb to nearby Mount Pleasant, and for years, the community’s summer celebration was known as “Rhubarb Days.” Today, the Maren Peel family still bakes and sells 120 rhubarb and strawberry rhubarb pies for the Scandinavian Days Festival each year. They have also developed a signature “rhubarb punch,” which they sell by the cup.
Rhubarb is a particularly tart vegetable that resembles celery in texture. It grows on tall, leafy stalks in early spring, and is harvested and baked into delicious strawberry rhubarb pies. Some people make the drive every Memorial Day just to try a piece. I love this street festival for its amazing variety of sights, smells and sounds. This year, one vendor was selling dozens of brightly-painted Mexican bird whistles.
Each year, home owners in nearby Spring City open their restored 1850-era homes , buildings, and churches (many of them beautifully restored) for tours. With bread baking contests, folk-dancing, and handcrafts, this street festival, held annually on the Saturday before Memorial Day, is worth a visit. Each year, the community sponsors another unique opportunity. Actors in period costume display a fascinating variety of pioneer skills and craftsmanship–everything from candle making to watch making. Pioneer Heritage Company, a non-profit group, volunteers time and expertise to educate others about and preserve Mormon Pioneer history and artifacts.
I’ve looked forward to this small-town street festival every year since I started attending. It would take days to see and hear everything that is available. Vendors sell everything from homemade root beer to authentic Dutch stroopwafels. If you look for him, you might even get a big Scandinavian bear hug from “Lars,” whose great-grandparents were raised in this community.