Friday, November 23, 2012
A few hundred years ago, European settlers and Native Americans had a meal together to celebrate the first successful harvest in what would later become the USA. The newcomers were thankful for the help the locals gave them in cultivating crops, and everyone was glad to have enough to eat for the winter. So glad, in fact, that the meal became an annual tradition. We call it Thanksgiving.
Over the years, the Thanksgiving meal has been standardized to include turkey as a centerpiece and stuffing, cranberry sauce, various preparations of potatoes, vegetables, and pumpkin and pecan pie.
Each family brings its own culinary traditions to the table depending on its roots and tastes, with many preparing traditional green bean casseroles and mashed sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). My own family is no different. Last year, my cousin’s wife, who hails from Mexico, made an amazing ceviche to add to our family feast.
And that’s the beauty of Thanksgiving. It’s not an exclusive holiday. It’s not a political one. It’s just a celebration of life, abundance, and food. Anyone can take part in it, and every family can add its own culinary traditions to the cornucopia (which, randomly, is a symbol of Thanksgiving).
That’s also one of the best things about celebrating Thanksgiving as an American living in London. Getting together with other American friends, each of whom grew up with a different Turkey Day menu at home, means that we all get to try one another’s favorite dish when we spend Thanksgiving in London.
On top of that, Brits seem to love the idea of Thanksgiving. When our British friends join us for the annual feast, they always enjoy taking part in the traditions as well.
Being overseas and surrounded by expat friends and enthusiastic locals also makes us appreciate the holiday all the more.
Finding the right ingredients to make pumpkin pie and stuffing is like being on an exciting (if expensive) treasure hunt. Coming together with people that care so much about having a traditional celebration that they will take time off work to cook, shop, and prep means that everyone is dedicated to making it a great experience.
This year was no exception. Yesterday we all met at the home of some of our American friends in London. They rented tables and chairs in order to accommodate everyone that came to share their Thanksgiving feast, and the sweet aromas of cinnamon and spice filled their flat.
Before dinner we enjoyed some of my friends’ special black bean and broccoli and cheese dips. When the meal began, we ate turkey, stuffing, gravy, cornbread, green beans, and potatoes.
Dessert was an abundance of pies, from pumpkin to pecan and sweet potato. We even had a cheesecake. There was chocolate ice cream and two types of whipped cream to go with them, too. Needless to say, we didn’t leave hungry.
And so, on this Thanksgiving in London, I am thankful for those pilgrims and Native Americans for coming up with such a great idea for a feast, and thankful for the ability to celebrate the holiday all over the world.