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.
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.