It’s officially November, which means my favorite day of the year is just around the corner: THANKSGIVING. What could be better than a day dedicated to food and family, a day when reaching for thirds (or sevenths, in my case) is not judged, but encouraged, a day when hearty New England fall harvest food takes center stage?
This means that our next Thanksgiving-themed contest is also just around the corner, so stay tuned for more information in another blog post later this week!
Before I reveal contest details, though, I’d like to share some Thanksgiving memories to get our community as excited for this new contest as I am.
As a proud New Hampshirite, I look forward to autumn all year—it’s our time to shine! The foliage, the apple picking, the hayrides—no one does autumn better than we do. And Thanksgiving meals embody the most tantalizing New England fall flavors of them all: maple roasted carrots, cinnamon simmered squash, and—the crowning glory of every Thanksgiving meal—rich, decadent pumpkin pie.
I’m such a Thanksgiving enthusiast, in fact, that I refused to go without this all-American holiday when I spent a year in Paris back in 2009.
When November (or novembre) rolled around that year, I’d been living in the city for about four months and the exciting “newness” of Paris was beginning to wear off, revealing the damp and depressing reality of autumn in the City of Light: there are no hayrides, no harvest festivals, and, worst of all… NO THANKSGIVING. To Parisians, autumn brings nothing but gray skies and a long, cold trudge toward Noel.
And I wouldn’t stand for it.
I regaled my host family with tales of the glories of Thanksgiving, describing in vivid detail the mouth-watering flavor of pumpkin pie (“You EAT pumpkins?” my host sister gasped in unwarranted horror and disgust) and the beautiful tradition of giving thanks for all of life’s blessings. But, most importantly, I admitted that I was starting to feel horribly homesick and was desperate for a little more America in my life. My French mom caved and agreed to host a Thanksgiving dinner at her house… as long as I took care of the actual dinner. After some negotiations she finally agreed to cook the turkey, but the rest was on me. “Oh, and good luck finding a citrouille (pumpkin),” she warned.
Amassing the necessary ingredients proved challenging; without access to an American grocery store, I had no choice but to make every dish entirely from scratch—there was no Pepperidge Farm stuffing from a box, no canned cranberry sauce. I decided to make mashed potatoes (easy enough), some maple-glazed vegetables with the few drops of syrup I had left (of course I’d arrived in Paris armed with enough New Hampshire syrup to get me through at least a few months), stuffing (there’s certainly no scarcity of carbs in France), and, of course, pumpkin pie… which did, as my host mom anticipated, prove challenging. The French don’t seem to comprehend the unadulterated bliss derived from eating pumpkins, so canned pumpkin was out of the question. I eventually found a real pumpkin at a vegetable stand in Chinatown for an exorbitant price, but I was desperate. Making the pie entirely from scratch ultimately proved my most rewarding culinary experience to date, even if it took nearly an entire afternoon to accomplish. When I pulled that bright orange pie (that’s right, not brown, ORANGE) out of the oven, I knew that I’d created something magical, and I couldn’t WAIT for my host family to have their first taste… but more on that later.
(And I’d like to briefly note that a week after Thanksgiving I stumbled upon an American food store in the Marais called “Thanksgiving” founded by an expat who loves Thanksgiving as much as I do, a store whose shelves are stocked with canned pumpkin, gravy, boxed stuffing… everything that I would have needed if only I’d found it seven days earlier… or done my research a bit better. Le sigh.)
When the day of our pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner arrived, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to introduce my French friends and family to (what I consider to be) the greatest American tradition. I had managed to talk my host mom into starting the dinner at 7pm (I had lobbied for 4pm; she was appalled and proposed her usual dinner party hour of 10pm, and I managed to convince her that a meal this heavy wouldn’t sit well past 8…so we settled on 7). All but one of our guests obediently arrived on the hour. That one tardy guest was my host mom’s eldest—and most treasured—son, Thomas, and she refused to start the meal without him. Unfortunately, he never got the “7pm memo” and erroneously assumed that this dinner would start at the same time as her other (frequent) dinner parties. Our neighbors had graciously brought over a “champagne soup”—some sort of deadly mixture of champagne, sugar, and various other alcohol—and, because I hadn’t made any appetizers (Thanksgiving food, I explained to them, must be eaten all together, not in courses like a typical French meal…a concept that they struggled with), we had nothing to tide us over but the champagne soup while hungrily awaiting Thomas’ arrival. So, for two and a half hours, we passed around champagne while watching the stuffing get crusty, the potatoes get soggy, and the turkey grow dry. When Thomas finally arrived, the meal had been reheated so many times that it had largely lost its appeal to half of our guests, and the other half were so drunk from the champagne that they barely noticed they had food on their plates at all. But the biggest disaster of the night was yet to come: my pumpkin pie.
When I finally unveiled it to my French guests (having, of course, built it up and created impossibly high standards), it was not greeted with the gasps of pure bliss that I had anticipated. Instead, my host sister reacted to her first bite with an expression that likely matched mine when she encouraged me to choke down a huge hunk of smelly Roquefort for the first time: unadulterated disgust. “Is it supposed to be so… wet?!?” she demanded, as if I’d played some sort of cruel trick on her. Horrified that I’d ruined the pie somehow (Had I forgotten the sugar? Accidentally dropped in a cup of wasabi? What else could provoke such a response?), I quickly snatched a bite from her plate. The pie was PHENOMENAL. The best pumpkin pie I’d ever tasted. And yet… every one of my seventeen dinner guests practically spat it out, revolted. I’d never thought that pumpkin could be an acquired taste… and, while at first I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t share my pumpkin love (and now doubted my palate), I realized that this gave me free range over everyone’s practically untouched pumpkin pie leftovers. In true American Thanksgiving form, I joyfully gobbled up nearly the entire pie myself.
While that Thanksgiving dinner may have been a disaster, it’s only made me appreciate Thanksgivings with my family in New Hampshire even more. And my host mom told me that they’ve continued to celebrate Thanksgiving in my absence… without the pumpkin pie, that is (which I’m guessing just means that she throws a dinner party loosely involving turkey at some point in November and calls it “Thanksgiving,” but I’m just touched she’s kept up the tradition!). And I can’t wait to make pumpkin pie from scratch this year, a recipe that has now become a family favorite.
Which brings me to the unveiling of our November contest: share your most treasured Thanksgiving family recipe! Stay tuned for details to come soon!