Celebrating Thanksgiving

“I think we Brits are a bit short on things to celebrate at this time of year,” DoneDreaming wrote when I asked what people might like to read about. “With Thanksgiving coming up I wondered if you could give us the lowdown on how we could join in. Do we Brits have what it takes to re-instate Thanksgiving over this side of the pond?”

Well, as every card-carrying American knows, the most important element in a Thanksgiving dinner is canned pumpkin, and—shock, horror, and I hope I don’t create in international incident here—it’s not sold in British supermarkets.

Okay, all you Americans who buy a prefab pie, settle down out there. I’m not bad-mouthing you or your pies or your dinners. My mother did the same and she was a wondrous and wise human being. Not a great cook, but if I had to choose between the two qualities. I’d go for the wonderful person.

Sill, those of us who pride ourselves on doing things from scratch load up on canned pumpkin and bake our pies with it. And somehow or other it never crossed my fuzzy little mind that dumping something out of a can kind of undermines the idea of from scratch until I moved to the U.K. and discovered that no one here had ever heard of canned pumpkin.

It took me several years (during which I begged our friend A. to make the pies) to work up the courage to kill, gut, and skin an actual pumpkin myself. I’m a vegetarian. My sensibilities are delicate. But the job needed to be done—I couldn’t impose on A. forever—and I not only learned to do it, I learned to take our Halloween pumpkin and cut it up and bake it the next day, turning it into pumpkin slurp. One vegetable, two holidays. Vegetarians of the world, all ye who proclaim that you don’t eat anything with a face, I tell you, this takes courage, because that jack o’lantern has a face, and it looks at you reprovingly from the cookie sheet as you shove it in the oven.

But let’s cut to the chase here: You bake a pumpkin, you scrape the slurp out, and you freeze it. Then a day or so before you make your pie you unfreeze it, by which time the water will have separated from the pulp and you can drain it off. Then you use either a food processor or one of those whizzy little blender sticks that are a whole shitload cheaper and you turn it to moosh—exactly the kind of thing you’d find in a can if only you could find a can.

And there you have it: canned pumpkin from scratch.

Wild Thing swears the pies taste better made from true scratch and she may be right. I can’t remember. But they work. That’s the main thing. Because you can’t have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. And no, I’m not going to offer a recipe. They’re all over the internet. Take your choice. But do serve it with whipped cream—a dollop on each slice.

The next thing you have to have on Thanksgiving is turkey (or for a small gathering, a chicken pretending to be a turkey). In the U.S. this is a cheap meat. In the U.K., for some reason, it’s crazy expensive, but since we only buy it once a year we just close our eyes and hand over the cash.

But I’m a vegetarian, you say. Yes indeed. But the rest of the world hasn’t come around to my way of thinking and for no good reason I draw the line at eating meat, not at cooking it. Purer vegetarians serve things like tofurky, which is tofu dressed up as turkey. Don’t ask because I’ve never tasted it. In fact, I’ve never actually seen it, just read about it. But its existence is a monument to how central the turkey is.

Back in the old days, you had to get up at 4 a.m. to put the turkey in the oven, because you had to keep opening the oven and basting the bird, which cooled the oven, which slowed everything down. Nowadays I use a magic non-melting plastic bag that keeps all the juices in so it doesn’t need basting and we sleep till a decent hour and feel like we’re getting away with something. The bags are probably ever so slightly toxic—who knows? I have a suspicious mind—but what the hell, we don’t use them often.

Thanksgiving’s a very patterned meal. You have to have cranberry sauce, although you don’t have to eat it. You have to have gravy, and ditto. You have to have potatoes—white, sweet, or both. You have to have a vegetable or salad, and you have to have something breadish, preferably rolls. We have baking powder biscuits—a nod to Wild Thing’s southern origins.

But more to the point, you can’t serve foods that aren’t part of the pattern, although we’ve thrown tradition to the winds for so many years now that it’s in tatters. Our tradition (and it’s not a traditional tradition, just something we’ve always done) is that guests bring a dish to add to the feast, and since we moved to Britain—well, the traditional meal has gone all pear shaped, to use a British phrase that makes no sense but that I love. People bring quiche and cauliflower and cheese and roast vegetables and chocolate cake and things that would have the Pilgrims—who American mythology holds started the tradition—accusing us all of heresy and witchcraft.

But, y;know, the Thanksgiving quiche? Why not?

The most important ingredient, however, is people—the more the better, in my opinion. Our party, sadly, is limited by the size of our house, so we try to keep a lid on it but each year we sneak in an extra person or two and it hasn’t exploded yet. More traditionally, people celebrate with the extended family, but we’ve never lived near our families and Wild Thing was estranged from hers for years, so we gathered up all the friends and acquaintances who were either far or estranged from their families and we made family out of that. It’s been wonderful.

Some families will stop and talk seriously about what they’re thankful for. Most will just eat. Many will watch the football game.

If you’re living outside the U.S., though, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday so you’ll want to hold your party on a weekend, when people are off work. (Traditionally it’s on a Thursday, and no one who has to work the next day gets much done.) So you pick a random weekend late in November, because what the hell, it’s not the real date.

And then, if you follow the example I’m setting this year, you get the flu and have to postpone the party. In the U.S. if this happened you’d either go ahead, asking someone else to cook the turkey while you hide behind a closed door so you won’t infect your friends, or you’d move it to someone else’s house. Because Thanksgiving has to be held on Thanksgiving or it’s not Thanksgiving.

Outside the U.S., though? What the hell, it wasn’t on the real date anyway.

[Sorry, no irrelevant photo today because I really do have the flu and am putting this together on my toy typewriter, which doesn’t have any photos. Enjoy the holiday, whether you celebrate it or not.]

145 thoughts on “Celebrating Thanksgiving

  1. hehehe the from scratch thing always amused me.

    I guess this is where my britishness finally comes into play, it is not from scratch unless the ingredients are in their most basic form that is sensible (I draw the line at milling my own flour or smashing up sugar plants)

    I find recipes for stuff on the interweb which appear to be real baking but then turn out to involve cake mix from a box…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Confession: I gave up on stuffing some years ago. I’ve never made one that anyone likes–including me. For years, in Minnesota, someone else made one everyone loved and brought it over early so I could get part of it in the bird. After we moved here, I made it once and no one ate it and I thought, why bother? The turkey cooks faster without it.

      Stuffing in the U.K. comes as hard little balls that you could put in a slingshot and break windows with. Why they’re called stuffing I don’t know, since they’re not stuffed into the bird.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This was a fun post. Great description, especially killing and gutting the pumpkin. Our celebration is small and most guest are not eating meat, but I am. I will usually grill a turkey breast outside. That frees the oven for other items and I only like white meat and I’m the only meat eater, so…

    I have to draw a sharp line between me and one of your thoughts. A dollop is not an acceptable measurement for whipped cream. Sorry, but if you can still see the top of the slice of pie, you haven’t added enough whipped cream.

    Also, if you have gravy and you have southern biscuits, you have the very reason we fought the Civil War (to prevent loosing access to biscuits and gravy). If ever there was a foodstuff to be thankful for.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I won’t argue with your measure of whipped cream–in fact, I love it–but sadly I won’t follow it either. But there was a time…. As for biscuits and gravy as the true reason for the Civil War, it’s worth exploring. But as a New Yorker who bakes a mean biscuit, I have to say I could’ve saved them some bloodshed.

      Although I’ll admit that my gravy’s never risen above adequate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A constant source of humour and wit. ‘Pear shaped,’ has been used for as long as I can remember but giving it some more thought, I really don’t know why we say it at all. Perhaps it has something to do with the bottom being wider than the top and no, that doesn’t make sense either.

    I’m not a turkey lover but given that I eat chicken every day of the year, a turkey suddenly sounds interesting and somewhat of a delicacy. Perhaps I’ll have goose.

    I live in a house with a vegetarian and a fussy eater. There are always 3 different meals on the go and the Aga is often bursting at the seams with an array of meat, tatties, veggie stuff, fish and something left over from last week that is neither man nor beast but charcoal.

    Sending tissues and hugs and gentle hugs. Wrap up warm, sleep the sleep of all sleeps and look forward to the Thanksgiving that isn’t really Thanksgiving because it’s not on the actual day of Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now that comes from a woman who knows how to send good wishes. I’m curled up with a cat and a computer. I think I’ll trade the computer in for a book pretty soon here.

      I’m convinced–for no good reason–that pear shaped is all wrong because everything should be shaped like an apple. But–well, let’s not try to get logical about this.

      Love your description of the Aga–and that you can distinguish between a vegetarian and a fussy eater.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. I’m dipping in and out of books at the moment and it’s very much a reflection of my current mood and a distinct lack of energy. I’ve come down from the post apocalyptic jelly bean eating session and hit a bit of a bottom – not a pleasurable kind of bottom. Let’s not go there. Tonight’s dinner was no less interesting than any other night. Youngest son is on a high fat diet to help him gain weight and he’s taken this to a whole new level of ice-cream inspired recipes. Ice-cream and the Aga do not mix well and the ice-cream inevitably comes off much worse despite trying all of the four ovens. There was a fish for the vegetarian who eats fish as long as it doesn’t appear to look anything like a fish – fish fingers are a staple of their diet. Broccoli was steamed as is always the case and tonight was my first night for introducing into my diet once again. I wanted slightly mushier broccoli and the vegetarian with a penchant for fish fingers, wanted more erect florets. We settled for somewhere in between. I warmed what was left of my chicken and bacon and scorched some sweet potato fries. Youngest son wanted home made chicken broth with chick peas and broccoli that was neither erect nor mushy. Needless to say, we all managed to eat without any great calamity. The chicken looked like chicken, the fish did not look like chicken or fish and the broth looked like broth.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Ellen, I’ll be right behind you in the queue. Don’t I have to be a guy to get one of those? I don’t want the female version, whatever that happens to be, even if it is pretty and comes with a chocolate coating. I want the masculine, hairy version

            Every day is like a re-enactment of some farce. I’m contemplating writing a whole series of articles on the life and loves of my Aga. I may need to hire myself a secretary….now there’s an idea. I possibly require a maid more than I require a secretary but both would be ok in my book.

            Are you getting regular bed baths and pungent ointment type things to clear your nose and warm your chest? This is best done by a competent individual, in possession of their own teeth and neatly trimmed finger nails. I’m not entirely sure why the teeth are important but I’m certain that I once heard that this was necessary. One wouldn’t want to find them at the bottom of their bowl of broth, along with 2 week old charcoal and putrified ice-cream.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. So that’s why no irrelevant photo: so sorry you have the flu, hope you get over it … in time for Thanksgiving! pumpkin pie sounds a bit complicated, We have a tradition where the stuffing (which doesn’t go in the turkey) comes from colonial times – Puerto Rico, Philippines, Spanish cuisine influence, a sort of pan-cooked hashed meat with onions, olives and raisins. Pretty different from Puritan taste buds,huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. Friends, family, traditions and good food are what it’s all about. Oh, and making someone else do the cleanup. Happy Thanksgiving, Ellen.

    I hope you feel better soon – nasty flu!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This brought back so many memories. Thanksgivings at your house in Minneapolis. I believe my job was to bring stuffed mushrooms. But that may have been Christmas. I also remember hauling canned Pumpkin across the pond the year I visited and fantasizing that you’d form a cabal of canned Pumpkin devotees who would pay me to bring suitcases of it every fall. My dad once funded a Russian relative’s visit with a suitcase of blue jeans, then sold on the black market there so there is a nutty logic behind the fantasy. Oh, turkeys are now expensive in Minnesota because they got the flu too only there were tens of thousands of them in turkey barns and the Departments of Everything made the farmers kill them. I trust that Wild Thing will look after you and protect you from such extremism. Try not to gobble and have a lovely holiday when you recover. xflo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your stuffed mushrooms were wonderful. Probably still are. You wouldn’t want to send me the recipe, would you?

      I hadn’t known that about the Great Turkey Plague. Poor miserable creatures. Apparently they’ve bred the brains out of them to the extent that they’ll stand in the rain, open their mouths, and drown themselves. Or so I was told. It could be vegetarian propaganda. I’m being well looked after and just have to wait this thing out, thanks.


      • Yup, I’ll send you the recipe. It’s not so much the breeding as the crowding. You put 10,000 of anything that breathes in a small space and when one of it gets sick, well, there goes the neighborhood.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. No fair! I was totally going to blog about this too. I’ve been having visitors smuggle in illicit pumpkin cans for years. But now I have a new solution that (win/win) also provides endless entertainment—the “international” foods shelf at Tesco. Did you know they have an “American” foods section?

    I can’t decide if their interpretation of American food is scary, insulting, or kind of comforting. Probably all three. BUT the good news is that pumpkin is found in its proper form—packed in Libby’s cans and ready to rock your Thanksgiving feast.

    Actual photo documentation:

    If I can save the life of even one innocent jack-o-lantern, my work here is done.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Tofu turkey seems like a very bad idea.

    This is the first year in my adult life that I’m not cooking a thing. I phoned in a reservation for 10 at a very nice country restaurant. It’s the most thankful in advance I think I’ve ever been!!

    You’ll feel better [sends perfect imaginary tea] any minute now!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I do hope you feel better soon.

    Mr Pict and I have been celebrating Thanksgiving almost as many years as we have been together, so at least 20, and only the last two were in the U.S. We, therefore, did the whole weekend Thanksgiving thing and ate, drank and made merry – all to keep him and then our kids connected to their American traditions, of course; the gluttony was just a side benefit. Only once did I make the pumpkin pie from scratch though and it was so much scutter that it was both my first and last time. I would also say it tasted no better than shop bought. We would, therefore, get visiting Americans to bring us a can before November – though we could also sometimes get it from an American food shop near the naval base in Dunoon. I was just putting together our Thanksgiving menu a few days ago and it’s interesting to compare it to your list, where it crosses over and where it diverges. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And a happy Thanksgiving to you. It does change a holiday, doesn’t it?, when people around you are also celebrating. I don’t entirely understand it–maybe it’s the herd instinct in us–but it does seem to be true.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love Thanksgiving in America precisely because it’s unifying. Everyone is celebrating, unlike the religious or more culturally specific holidays. And the fact that everyone is off work means my husband can also relax and properly down tools so it’s uninterrupted good quality family time. With feasting.

        Liked by 2 people

        • The only sour note, for us, was that Native American friends get understandably shirty about the holiday and don’t find a whole lot to be thankful for. And I do understand that. But so little in our world is unmixed, so acknowledging that, we still went ahead and held our celebration.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I suppose that is true generally and it’s important to place the ritual of Thanksgiving in its wider context. My husband and kids are Mayflower descendants so we are all well versed in the injustice that followed the colonists being rescued from starvation, the reneging on agreements and the conflicts of King Philip’s War. Just as we secularise Christmas in our household, so to do we really detach Thanksgiving from its origins and think about it more as a reflection on the things we are grateful for.

            Liked by 1 person

            • When I was a kid, we inevitably made construction paper pilgrim hats and what we were told were Indian feathers in school at this time of year. At home, though, Thanksgiving was just a time to get the extended family together in a New York apartment that was too small for that many people so we could all eat too much, the adults could work their way into a (usually) political argument, we kids could run through creating mayhem, and the aunt who’d quit buying cigarettes could try to bum one from an uncle who said he’d be happy to give her one only he knew she didn’t want him to. (They could keep that game up for hours.) So separated from its origins? Definitely.

              Liked by 2 people

  10. I think that Thanksgiving is such a wonderful concept. We should spend more time being thankful for what we have.

    What feels like a zillion years ago, and when I was living in Johannesburg, I had American friends: an intern at the school where I was working, who had been at Columbia and was heading, via South Africa, to law school, and who hailed from Kentucky and two former Peace Corps queens, one of whom hailed from Chicago and the other from Ann Arbor. Hannah had the tin, er, can of pumpkin sent to South Africa and I had the task of preparing the meal. What a dinner we had, and everyone, especially Don and Patrick had huge appetites, but we still ate pumpkin pie for at least the next month. The recipe came off the side of the can, and I’m told that it lived up to expectations notwithstanding that not only was it my first and only attempt, I’m not even remotely American and had never tasted pumpkin pie!

    That means that we do have turkey for Christmas (also costs and arm and a leg here, and usually come from Brazil)…. More of that to come as I contemplate this year’s menu….

    Happy thanksgiving and get better soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Fiona. In theory I like the idea of a holiday where we pause and think about what we’re grateful for, but in practice it tends to turn into a vague and un-felt gesture in that direction. So I prefer the honesty to gathering people in sharing food. Something about that never does become un-felt.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only just figured this out, but here’s the absolute truth about being sick: The only way to get better is to pass it on to someone else. I don’t think a pumpkin’s going to work–it has to be a human being.

      Sorry. It’s ugly but it’s true. Wishing you health and an available victim.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The ‘flu jab isn’t guaranteed to prevent you getting ‘flu, but if you do, it probably won’t be so bad as if you hadn’t had the vaccination. My company provides ‘flu injections for free for all those who want them. They encourage staff to take up the offer, on the grounds that it hits their business badly if employees go down with ‘flu en masse (and it costs them in sick pay – more than the injection costs).

        I recommend you go for it next year!


  11. So here I am, leaving a comment on my own blog, which is one step up from hitting Like on my own blog. But Patricia left a set of questions on Facebook and if I don’t add them here, I’ll lost them: Topic: is retirement as hard in UK as it is in USA? If you are middle income here it is getting to be such a struggle and then the politicians threaten Medicare and Social Security every 5 minutes. Paul Ryan has just gotten another reduction approved. What are your thoughts on the TTP?


  12. Great prospective on Thanksgiving! You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head – it’s mostly about the people! But of course the food is awesome too..we serve tofurkey in additional to the bird at our Thanksgiving since one of the 25 people invited is vegetarian – and now all the kids eat the tofurkey too – I’ve tasted it and it’s not bad (but I think I’ll stick the original) – So, from us to you – Happy Thanksgiving and get better soon! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I introduced pumpkin pie to my English friends a few years back and it is now my most requested dessert. I used to get the cans off the internet or via friends in the US, but since Walmart bought Asda, I’ve found it there the last few years.
    Since I met my husband I’ve booked the day off work and we’ve celebrated via Skype, I’m looking forward to he day I am able to celebrate it properly in the US.
    My addition to the traditional meal will be bread sauce, because turkey isn’t turkey without it, I think it is entirely possible that I will have to eat it all when my step children taste it, but that is never a hardship for me.
    Get well soon! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the good wishes. They’re very welcome just now.

      Introducing Americans to bread sauce will be as much fun as introducing the English to pumpkin pie. My experience with that (pumpkin pie and British friends) is that people almost creep up on it for the first bite. Pumpkin and pie? It’s all wrong. It’s dangerous. It could spring out at them. And then they like it. Or claim to like it. Maybe they’re being polite. We always have other desserts as well, so it doesn’t matter.


  14. Well that was fun. :-) I often enjoy reading through the comments when I get to one of your posts late nearly as much as the original post. We’re doing T-day next weekend, so I’m thinking about the pre-prep now. Well, actually, I’ve already done some of the cooking ahead, and frozen a few things… Hope you’re better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the comments are great. I never know where they’re going to take me. You’re impressive, having so much done in advance. I’m hoping I’ll be up to a major blast the day before the party. I’m on the mend, but it’s slow and I seem to have captured somebody else’s voice. Whoever you are, if you’d like yours back so would I and I’m happy to trade.


      • I haven’t actually done as much in advance as I used to, in a weird backwards effort to take some of the pressure off. The uber-advance prep must date back to that year I had my primary-school aged kids with me in France, and was determined to do a ‘proper’ American Thanksgiving to combat homesickness in a seriously under-equipped kitchen. One two-burner hot plate and a toaster oven. No freezer–heck, I’m not sure if we had a fridge by that point, though we did have a cold storage room–so I could only pre-prep stuff that wouldn’t spoil in 3 or 4 days. And we had guests! Life is so much easier now…

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow! That’s unbelievable. Although, I’m not that much fun of pumpkin. Anyway, I rather prepare some sweet potatoes pie which I make from scratch. For my family, the bake turkey and ham, along with the sweet potatoes pies are the hit. We could do without the ham, but as the pies? No way!


  16. I can totally relate to your situation! I live in Mexico, and celebrating Thanksgiving can be pretty tricky. We also have the canned pumpkin problem, but Mom hads been butchering jack-o-lanterns remorselessly for years, so no problem there. Turkey is also expensive here, and during one or two leaner years we’ve had to settle for chicken. Also, we always have to have dinner on the weekend, but who cares? Any day is a good day for stuffing yourself with food. Get well soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I loved this post! And you are so on the money – Thanksgiving takes a completely different turn when you are living abroad. In fact, I think I love it more now than I did in the US – there is just something special about celebrating it abroad. We, too, celebrate on the weekend – school and work make it impossible to do it on Thursday. And not sure if you have any American stores there, but ours sells the canned pumpkin ;) I still had to make the pie from scratch though even though the pumpkin part wasn’t technically since I took it out of the can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We live way out in the country, so no American stores to be found. At this point, I’m used to making the pie from a genuine pumpkin, so–oh, why lie about it, if canned were available I’d probably use it but at least I don’t fret about it anymore.


        • We get so used to processed stuff that half the time we don’t know it’s possible to eat any other way. I remember the first time someone told me she was going to make applesauce. You can make that? I thought. I swear I half believed it grew in a jar.


  18. The Canadians (at least the ones near Michigan) celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Perhaps the Brits could piggyback on that. Empire and all. It also has the advantage of not being forgotten in the Christmas sales.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Happy Thanksgiving, Ellen! I’m an American in Scotland, and I never feel more weird than on Thanksgiving. As Barb says, Libby’s is here now, and I found it years ago at an American import shop. Made one last year, but burned it. Suddenly feel among friends. <3

    Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.