How to make Thanksgiving work in London

For each of the last three years, Faith and I have been outside the US on the annual gratitudinous smorgasbord that takes place on the fourth Thursday of November. There are certain advantages to not actually being present for American Thanksgiving. To whit:

  • Not being caught up in the busiest travel day of the year
  • Not having to be made aware of, much less take part in, the anti-Thanksgiving bloodbath of Black Friday

    My Swedish friend Henrik, confused by our strange traditions and foods

Nevertheless, we still wanted to do the fun bits of Thanksgiving this year, albeit not on Thanksgiving day, as Faith still had to go to work and I still had class on this ordinary Thursday. So, we hastily planned a Thanksgiving Day Feastival for the day after Thanksgiving (i.e. yesterday), blithely optimistic that we would be able to find all the elements of a typical Thanksgiving menu.

Here is how that search played out…

Cranberries

Cranberries are, for me, the sine qua non of Thanksgiving. I had seen jellied cranberries in a jar at some stores, but I turned my nose swiftly upward at such lacklustre processed fruitstuffs. While I knew from the beginning that cranberries are a New World fruit, I remained confident that they must have found their way through the global food supply chain onto a shelf somewhere in London. But a cursory search of nearby supermarkets earlier in the week proved fruitless (apologies for this and any later puns).

Sensing the foundations of a proper Thanksgiving beginning to crumble on the morning of our planned festivus, I began calling around to potential Vaccinium vendors. I was told by a well-intentioned, but ultimately mal-informed customer service representative that the Tesco Metro at Elephant and Castle had frozen cranberries. I swiftly pedaled over, only to find that they did not!

My faith in Tesco’s phone operators diminished but not completely erased, I called the Tesco Superstore in Soutwark and was told that they had fresh cranberries. After another short spin, I found myself at a place very like America: large carpark; large people pushing large, overflowing carts; and most importantly, FRESH CRANBERRIES!

My Indian friend Poulomi , enchanted by our exotic customs and food

Pumpkin Pie

This one was always going to be risky. I harboured no illusions that I would be able to slice up a pumpkin, mash the inside to a pulp, and turn it into a pie. I was hoping to be able to find a tin of pumpkin puree and go from there. This search suffered fewer false starts than the cranberry quest, as it only required a trip to the Waitrose (an upscale supermarket chain) in St. Katharine Docks.

But of course, it couldn’t be that easy. Finding a proper pie crust turned out to be the true challenge. In the end, we had to settle on a “pastry shell” with a very thick crust and very shallow basin that I presume was meant to be used for tarts. The strange dimensions of this pumpkin vessel messed with my perceptions of the proper procedure and time for cooking the pie. But, in my unbiased opinion, it turned out brilliantly. Heck, I was even able to make a crustless pumpkin pie for our celiac American friend. So far, so good!

The site of the chicken provoked Arvind’s bloodlust.

Turkey

One of our other American friends was to bring the turkey. We all assumed that it would be possible to buy a fresh turkey the day of and then prepare it at our flat. But since turkeys are a fixture at Christmas in Britain, only frozen ones are available at this early stage in November.

Since we didn’t have time for the lengthy thawing process necessary for such a be-frosticled bird, we settled on two chickens. Just as well: Our diminutive little oven was already stretched to the limit by the smaller fowl, pies, stuffing, vegetables, etc.  And despite what you’ve been told, Chicken has just as much tryptophan as turkey!

So, in short, we were able to assemble a pretty decent replica of the canonical Thanksgiving repast. We even went around the circle, making everyone say what they were thankful for. The only thing missing was tense familial subtext!

The bounteous cornucopia

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