The very concept of Thanksgiving gives me pleasure beyond belief- friends, family, an excuse to cook-up a huge meal, wear your fat jeans and enjoy a long weekend to recover. Now, that’s my kind of holiday! No last minute present-buying panic or having to witness the disgust on my sister’s face as she opens the gift that I spent hours choosing for her. Cooking food, I can do. Panic over.
Of course, what I haven’t ever gotten my head around is the how different the that Americans’ serve on Thanksgiving is to what my British blood is used to. One of my most visited bad-food memories was my first Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, aged nine. Utilising the eyes-bigger-than-the mouth policy that most young children do, I mounded my plate with turkey and mashed potatoes and drowned it in half a boats worth of gravy. It was only when I’d sat down recited my ‘thank you Lord’s and Amen’s’ that I came to regret my greed. The gravy turned out to be flavoured with apple juice and I was then forced to sit, as if moribund, in front of a plate of food ruined by my own gluttony.
It was a lesson that has stuck with me throughout my years of celebrating Thanksgiving- to urge on the side of caution as you never know what might not be what it seems. In the run-up to Thanksgiving one of my lovely friend’s, Megan, hosts an event aptly named ‘Friendsgiving’ and in the true American-style everybody brings a dish- a ‘potluck’, if you will. Now, as somebody who leans heavily towards the anal side when it comes to food pairings, I find this a difficult concept to fathom. I love the idea, but having had it drilled into me at cooking school that no course should contain any of the same ingredients or colours in succession the reality of a potluck is, well, potluck. Potluck also implies that any Tom, Dick and Harry will be producing something that you will out of politeness and fear of being seen as a food-snob or even worse as a fad-dieter, spoon onto your plate. I would urge on the side of caution.
Despite the fact that I am a shameful food snob I went to Friendsgiving with an open mind- willing and excited to try the American regional dishes and family favourites that my friends would bring to the table. Relief came when a sly pinky-dip into the gravy revealed that nobody had slipped in a swig of apple juice. I was however, startled to see as I made my way around the spread, desserts mixed in amongst the mains, which everyone seemed to be quite confidently serving onto the same plates as their turkey! Sweet potatoes and pineapple with roasted marshmallows, apple crisp and fruit salad. I had heard about the infamous sweet potatoes with marshmallows and was itching to try them but surely this was a dessert?! I love desserts (and on this occasion they were all delicious) and I love mixing salt with my sweets- but where I come from they are served amongst their own kind in all their dessert-course glory. I wanted a dollop of ice cream with my apple crisp- not a slice of turkey with gravy! Of course, I was the only one who deemed this dessert-with-the-main-course-approach strange and it was at the end of the evening my profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and pumpkin caramel sauce that seemed to scare everyone off with their radiating foreignness.
This Thursday, my family are coming to me for Thanksgiving and I can assure you that there will be nothing potluck about the occasion- except perhaps the wine. There will also, despite my best intentions, be very little Regional-America about it- sweet stuff will remain at the end of the meal. Of course, I will be serving the signature Turkey, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce but my potatoes will be roasted and a few sausages wrapped in bacon and bread sauce won’t go amiss either. An English Thanksgiving, if you will.