This is hardly the right time for right minded Americans (I use the phrase advisedly) to be saying a hearty “thank you” but that’s exactly what a large swathe of them will be doing today although I’m not sure that a boatload of unauthorised immigrants, landing illegally at Cape Cod and immediately setting up a colony whilst swearing allegiance to the British Crown, would be the subject of many thanks from the new administration. On reflection, it’s clear that Thanksgiving refers to ordinary folk having had the courage and determination to survive through perilous times. For many, the next four years will undoubtedly serve as a test of that resolve.
This is the first year that I have been aware of the fact that Thanksgiving occurs on the 23 November and that is only because of a chance meeting with this trolley load of iconic pumpkins which happened to be parked in one of our next door neighbour’s dépendances as I wandered aimlessly, hunting pictures, on yesterday’s grey November afternoon. My pleasure in the pumpkin is purely visual and I have long wondered why people choose to waste good sugar and pastry to make it palatable but, in the face of the 320 million Americans who delight in the kandy coloured tangerine flake pie each year, I’m not going to mention that out aloud. If it’s any consolation I feel the same about Christmas dinner. In part, it’s the predictability, which for many is the very attraction, but above all it is the rigid format of the menu that makes it so mind numbingly dull particularly as the task of cooking it falls to me each year. Over the years I have photographed hundreds of Christmas dinners for magazines and each time there was the suggestion that it would not be the same old Christmas fare but it would be exciting and new; Christmas with a twist. These experiences have led me to conclude that there is no twist to Christmas ( read Thanksgiving) dinner save for Oliver’s – “Can I have some more of the same, please”. Research into the origin of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner makes it clear that the presence of turkey was unlikely, and that there was no sugar for cranberry sauce nor butter for pastry …let alone an oven in which to cook a pie. It seems likely that tough, dry barbecued venison and stewed pumpkin were on the slate for Thanksgiving dinner on day 1 which made it clear to all those around that harsh table that there was definitely room for a twist if not a shout and, in the same breath, it’s clear that Christmas dinner doesn’t have the Middle Eastern flavours that its heritage would suggest. Somewhere along the passage of centuries a change has been brought about and that change seems to have come from two nations which are not celebrated for their ingenuity in the kitchen: the Dutch and the Germans. The Dutch have produced wonderful painters and the Germans, wonderful cars. Neither have produced wonderful dinner. My case rests.
Have a very happy Thanksgiving and enjoy that pie. By the way, if you have any pumpkin left over here’s a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin and Potato Frittata from the pen of Rachel Roddy.
Potato and pumpkin frittata
1 white onion
1 large potato (about 400g)
500g pumpkin or butternut squash
1 tbsp sage, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 Peel and slice the onion, potato and pumpkin. In a medium-size frying pan with a lid, fry the onion in 4 tbsp of the olive oil.
2 After 2 minutes add the potato and pumpkin. Stir until each slice is glistening, then cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it looks as if it’s sticking, add a little water. By the end of cooking time the vegetables should be really soft and collapsing.
3 Add the sage, salt and pepper and cook for a minute longer, uncovered.
4 Beat the eggs in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Either pour this over the vegetables or – if you are afraid of the egg sticking or you are using an iron pan – scrape the vegetables into the egg bowl, wipe the pan clean, smear with butter, then pour it all back in the pan, stirring until the eggs begin to cook.
5 Let the frittata cook over a low heat. As the edges start to set, use a spatula to ease them away from the pan sides. Once the frittata is golden underneath – mostly set but with a wobbly top, which takes about 10 minutes – you can either serve as is, or, if you want it crisper, either finish the frittata in the oven, or invert twice on to a plate and put it back briefly in the pan to cook the other side.
• Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome, the author of Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Saltyard) and winner of the André Simon food book award