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
I’m sure pumpkin pie is an acquired taste but having acquired it, I do love the stuff. Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November every year, so the date changes every year and occasionally matches my husband’s birthday but not this time. More than anything I just like the idea of a day of gratitude. So thank you for a new recipe idea and your beautiful cookbook.
I knew I’d get it wrong. My other memory of Thanksgiving was about 40 years ago, walking down Conduit St towards Bond St and passing the Westbury Hotel all decked out for a very posh and ritzy Thanksgiving…I remember it so well as I had never before heard of Thanksgiving. Glad you like the recipe and the book…happy Thanksgiving:)
Pumpkin pie didn’t do a lot for me, but some people make a hot spicy pumpkin soup which I liked a lot better.
I believe that drovers used to march geese down to London (wearing boots to protect their feet) and fatten them up in Islington before the short walk down to Smithfield.
Oddly enough I do like pumpkin soup…only just realised that so keep it to yourself. Love the idea of geese in boots. There’s a pub down Fulham Way called the Goat in Boots…was that on the goat drovers’ route:)
I think they used to walk them down from Norfolk – things changed when the live animal market moved to Copenhagen Fields and the animals started to come by train. Then they only had to march up York Way. There’s a butcher (Cramer’s) at the top of York Way, with a huge photo behind the counter showing escaped cows running off towards Tufnell Park.
The Goat in Boots goes back to at least the 18th Century, so perhaps it was a drovers pub. That area would have been quite rural then.
York Way is up by Farringdon isn’t it…don’t remember the butcher but the picture sounds wonderful. I think I remember being quite rustic in the Goat in Boots:)
York Way runs north from King’s Cross to Camden Road, parallel with Caledonia Road. It’s a great picture – I wish I’d seen it happen in real life.
I’ve got it now….the studio was in Mount Pleasant…if I came out of Elm ST and turned North the road carried on until it joined York Way at Kings Cross..I thought it was all York Way..such a long time ago now, I’m surprised I remember the names.:)
Yes, that’s it – King’s Cross Road, or Grays Inn Road on the other side. You were very handy for Process Supplies, which I’m pleased to say, is still going and almost exactly the same!
old memories…hope I don’t owe them any money:)
I won’t mention your name 😉
Yes, (sorry for barging in) I have been to the remnants of those yards – or at least where they had that market in Islington – it quite caught my imagination – have you seen the goose boots? I would love to see those !
Sadly I haven’t seen the boots, but apparently they were leather, though some say that geese had their feet dipped in tar and sand. I believe pigs also had leather boots to protect their trotters. The market clock tower is still there with a park instead of cattle stalls. The layout andrailings remain. The original pubs (with animal names) still stand on the four corners, but I think they are all closed. They built student accommodation on top of where the slaughterhouse stood!
Is that where the goose step come from?
Apparently it comes from the way in which geese stand.
Have you made the frittata? It sounds delicious and has gone into my file of must makes.
I still haven’t owing to not having any pumpkin! I think the time has come to ask my neighbour for a slice or two..:)
I love pumpkin pie & sweet potato pie & candy roaster pie (made from a very large oblong incredibly sweet squash) & come to think of it almost any pie (shoofly not quite as much). I agree with another immigrant we’re so lucky to have had arrive some on our shore, Jaques Pepin: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday- roast brined or smoked turkey, Mama’s oyster dressing, Aunt Catherine’s cranberry calamondin relish, Orley Inn (Maryland’s Way cookbook) sweet potatoes with sherry, whipped cream & black walnuts, roasted garlic brussel sprouts & Pumpkin Pie (& pecan pie too!) Yay! It’s here again, just when we most need Something to be thankful for.
Well, you certainly made it sound fantastic and if Jacques Pepin likes it, then there must be something to it….by the way, I must do a post on not trusting glamourously worded menus…:)…happy Thanksgiving..:)
My pumpkin is in the form of a cheesecake which probably wasn’t on the first Thanksgiving menu either! I am crazy about sticky toffee pudding and am anxious to try your recipe. Happy day to you, Roger.
Those pumpkins, brilliantly photographed as they are, are some of the oddest looking shapes I’ve seen. More like squash, really. But how is it the American ones are always so round and uniform? GMOs? I love the taste of pumpkin pie and muffins but it may just be all the spices, not the vegetable itself.
There seem to be so many different squashes and pumpkins around in this area. My neighbours, however, only grow food to eat and the simplest food at that. These are potirons and I was surprised by their shape too. We bought some very pasta stuffed with pumpkin yesterday but they are most certainly not traditional Vendéen fare:)
Sometimes I think you are my favourite Uncle by another Brother. I AGREE. Oh how I agree. And the thing that I was about to say in my response to your response on my blog this morning is that these holiday meals are so defeatingly predictable. The same stuff over and over again. And to deviate from the norm is deemed UnAmerican down here. Did you know that it is impossible to buy a cut of corned beef in Illinois unless it is close to St Patricks day? You cannot buy a turkey leg at any time in the year, for instance (only a full turkey at thanksgiving) and has anyone wondered how they produce MILLIONS of turkeys for just this one day. MILLIONS of them! Another reason for me to grow my own. (Not turkeys though – I will never grow turkeys again. God they are noisy.) Now I am off out into my garden to pick a salad to take to my MIL’s for TG lunch. Then at least I will have something to eat that does not have marshmallows on it/. But I LOVE the sentiment of thanksgiving – everyone who gets to read blogs like this every day needs to be very, very thankful. Love c. ps. just looked at the time – I bet I have time to make this fritatta too and take that to lunch as well.. there will be another vegetarians and me (the part time one) – hmm – maybe I will! (I can nick one of Lady’s pumpkins. ) Love love.. c
..so funny..I was writing the bit about the millions of turkeys being produced for the day but edited it out as I got a bit over excited ( angry) ..didn’t think it was right for Thanksgiving. Hope you enjoy the frittata…I’m a real fan of Rachel Roddy’s writing..she writes a food page in the Guardian..check it out. I’m hoping to persuade her to do a food photography course with me..:)
You’re welcome to come to the City any time, Celi, where you’ll find turkey — parts and all — as well as corned beef any day of the year. 🙂
Thanks for the painting, recipe and thoughts. This Thanksgiving should remind us Americans that are best days are spent protesting injustice.
Glad you liked it….by the way it’s a photograph…:)
This year I sabotaged the pumpkin pie tradition, by making a french Creme Caramel as a dessert and everybody just loved it. Simply being European I just don’t understand pumpkin pies, well having said that, I mean that I have to understand food and dishes, I’m sure you know what I mean. By the way, Thanksgiving took place on the 24.of November.
I’m not surprised that I got the date wrong…apparently it changes every year as does Easter here. Very wise replacing pumpkin pie with creme Caramel..love it:)
I absolutely love that photo. Yes it did seem a bit weird celebrating Thanksgiving this year with all the horrid things going on in the country but I do try to remember there still is a lot to be thankful for. Fingers crossed it will get better!
Yes indeed, fingers crossed….:)
“A test of that resolve” indeed!
I think it will be a huge test for fair minded people worldwide..