The Great Thanksgiving Hunt Abroad

Ever since I moved to Europe thirty years ago, I have been hunting for Thanksgiving a l’américaine. My first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the turkey with chicken. Tom Turkey seemed gluttonous even for the hearty-eating French.

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

When I was living in Dijon, I invited a Franco American family for what turned into another Thanksgiving fiasco starting with the great turkey hunt. Local merchants explained that whole turkeys are obsolete until the official slaughtering date on December 8th. I finally found a black market butcher, who ordered me a clandestine turkey, smuggled from abroad. I was stuffing the bird when the family that I had invited called to cancel as their child had the flu. We postponed Thanksgiving until Tuesday night since French children have no school Wednesdays.

How to put Thanksgiving on hold? I froze the stuffing and refrigerated the bird. On Tuesday afternoon, when I opened the basement refrigerator, I passed out from the stench. Thanksgiving could wait; the bird could not. I called Gerald at work and he rushed home at 4 in the afternoon for the first time in his career. This was a true emergency – French honor at stake. He had to uphold his culinary reputation and save Thanksgiving.

He called every supermarket, butcher and volailler (shop that sells only poultry)

“We have pigeon, quail, pheasant, duck, chicken, English hen,” Bird Man said, “but no turkey. Not until the eighth of December.”

I mad one last desperate call to Gel 2000, a frozen food store. Yes! They had turkey, frozen of course. When our guests arrived the bird was still stiff, so we opened a bottle of champagne and kept serving drinks. Then the grand moment arrived.

How to orchestrate and produce everything a table on time? I had peeled and cooked potatoes earlier -no box mix mashed for me. I’d do it up right for T-Day. So when the turkey was done, I whipped the cold potatoes with a small hand mixer. Suddenly the machine exploded, nuts, bolts, plastic and white paste flew across the kitchen.

I abandoned the potatoes for the gravy. Gerald simultaneously removed the turkey from the oven and tipped his pan pouring fat drippings into my gravy. But, the bird slipped out, slid down the bar and landed on the floor. While our guests were peeking around the corner in alarm, I retrieved the runaway bird and returned to the runny gravy. In my haste to thicken the gravy, I added corn meal instead of cornstarch.

Finally we sat down to an unforgettable meal. Gritty gravy. Crunchy stuffing. Sour cranberries. The potatoes stuck to the spoon and tasted like the white paste I snacked on in grade school. But the corn, right out of a Green Giant can tasted just fine. Thank goodness for small blessings.

As we picked at our plates, we laughed and laughed, but under my breath I swore off Thanksgiving in France forever. Then darned if we didn’t move to Switzerland. So here I go again on the Great Turkey Hunt through the Swiss Alps. What I find and how I put it together wont be exactly like the Thanksgivings I remember growing up in America, but the warm memories will be similar. After all the bird is only secondary. It’s the stuffing – family and friends – sharing and caring – that sustains me.

Posted in family, humor, inspiration, relationships.

37 Comments

  1. Luckily, the bird is easier to find in Switzerland. A few stores even stocked frozen Butterball turkeys imported special from USA just for the occasion. And best yet, we were invited out for the holiday, so no cooking disasters this year!

  2. LOL, Pat. I totally relate. In the end, you’re right – it’s all about the “stuffing” of our lives. Friends and family make the meal. Love the image of the turkey taking its final flight. 🙂

    • Rebecca, after bringing both of your worlds to the table on your first Italian Thanksgiving, I am sure this holiday will hold a new meaning for you.

  3. LOL, Pat. I totally relate. In the end, you’re right – it’s all about the “stuffing” of our lives. Friends and family make the meal. Love the image of the turkey taking its final flight. 🙂

    • Rebecca, after bringing both of your worlds to the table on your first Italian Thanksgiving, I am sure this holiday will hold a new meaning for you.

  4. I too, had to laugh out loud at this one. And the thing is I can totally envision this going on in your kitchen with the Frenchman swearing under his breath! But absolutely what will be remembered year to year is the fellowship of those who matter to us sitting round the table and laughing with us.

  5. Hilarious! I, too, LOL’ed!! My imagery of the sliding turkey will be an annual Thanks giving image from now on!!!

    • Unfortunately the image of the flying turkey haunts my memory and makes me a nervous about preparing the sacred bird. Luckily this year, friends hosted the big event!

  6. Hilarious! I, too, LOL’ed!! My imagery of the sliding turkey will be an annual Thanks giving image from now on!!!

    • Unfortunately the image of the flying turkey haunts my memory and makes me a nervous about preparing the sacred bird. Luckily this year, friends hosted the big event!

  7. Oh, Patty. This is a classic story. You had me laughing outloud! And once again you convey a powerful message through the hilarity. Blessings & hugs across the ocean 🙂

  8. Oh, Patty. This is a classic story. You had me laughing outloud! And once again you convey a powerful message through the hilarity. Blessings & hugs across the ocean 🙂

  9. The things we take for granted, Pat! Over here, we just expect to find plenty of turkeys in the grocery stores — and we do. Fresh ones, frozen, cut in half, whatever, they’re available. Wish I could have sent you some!

    • Luckily, the bird is easier to find in Switzerland. A few stores even stocked frozen Butterball turkeys imported special from USA just for the occasion. And best yet, we were invited out for the holiday, so no cooking disasters this year!

    • Lynne, seems like every ex-pat American has their tall turkey tale! One my favorite’s is a friend ordered a turkey that ended up being too big to fit in the oven, so she had severed it in two and cooked the other half at the neighbors.

  10. sista,
    TOooooooooooooooooooo Funny! thanks for the laughs AND perfect reminder: the stuffing of family and friends that makes the REAL Thanksgiving gathering! Would you believe that stateside turkeys are so abundant you can even get a FREE turkey with a chiro adjustment. YEP, I have the bird in the freezer waiting your arrival! 🙂

  11. Well this is my first Thanksgiving and my family left me with friends while they went to Omaha to visit family!! I did have a great meal though and when they came back and picked me up-it was wild-the fun stories they told!! I even got a real cow bone for being such a good girl!! But I must admit-it is great to be around family and friends-even without the bird.

  12. Well this is my first Thanksgiving and my family left me with friends while they went to Omaha to visit family!! I did have a great meal though and when they came back and picked me up-it was wild-the fun stories they told!! I even got a real cow bone for being such a good girl!! But I must admit-it is great to be around family and friends-even without the bird.

  13. Ok, Pat, Just hope that bird didn’t slip out of the pan this time…So hilarious !! Sending laughter from The States 🙂

    Happy Holidays!

  14. Ok, Pat, Just hope that bird didn’t slip out of the pan this time…So hilarious !! Sending laughter from The States 🙂

    Happy Holidays!

  15. Pat, I’m sure we all have our “first” meal tales to tell! My first pan of lasagne, i forgot to boil the noodles, but fortunately it turned out great. i guess the juice from the pasta sauce softened the pasta! We had 15 people at my house this year which is different from the tradition we used to have at going to Grandma’s. We then went to my Mom’s or Aunt’s. We built on to our house and now have a room big enough that we can all sit in the same room. i found an antique oak table with 9 leaves in beautiful condition for $450! What a deal! Even though the turkey got a little dried out by the time we ate it, it was good, along with the stuffing, scalloped corn, Grandma’s delicious yeast rolls that my daughter and I are now making, pumpkin bars, spinach salad, raspberry pretzel salad, broccoli/cauliflower salad and cranberry relish jello. Ah! What a feast! Hope you enjoyed dinner at your friends!

  16. Pat, I’m sure we all have our “first” meal tales to tell! My first pan of lasagne, i forgot to boil the noodles, but fortunately it turned out great. i guess the juice from the pasta sauce softened the pasta! We had 15 people at my house this year which is different from the tradition we used to have at going to Grandma’s. We then went to my Mom’s or Aunt’s. We built on to our house and now have a room big enough that we can all sit in the same room. i found an antique oak table with 9 leaves in beautiful condition for $450! What a deal! Even though the turkey got a little dried out by the time we ate it, it was good, along with the stuffing, scalloped corn, Grandma’s delicious yeast rolls that my daughter and I are now making, pumpkin bars, spinach salad, raspberry pretzel salad, broccoli/cauliflower salad and cranberry relish jello. Ah! What a feast! Hope you enjoyed dinner at your friends!

  17. Too Funny and I can so relate. My cooking experience often include frozen food and exploding appliances. It never occurs to me that Turkey didn’t grace the grocers freezers 12 months a year-world wild- vive la différence

    • Katybeth, where I live now in Switzerland there are so many Americans, they actually stock frozen Butterball turkeys in the local shops. However, even though the bird is easier to find, I am still not any more successful in actually preparing the feast.

  18. Too Funny and I can so relate. My cooking experience often include frozen food and exploding appliances. It never occurs to me that Turkey didn’t grace the grocers freezers 12 months a year-world wild- vive la différence

    • Katybeth, where I live now in Switzerland there are so many Americans, they actually stock frozen Butterball turkeys in the local shops. However, even though the bird is easier to find, I am still not any more successful in actually preparing the feast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

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