1. Is it just me or has Facebook now become all about our mothers making sure we remember to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries?
2. Who used to have that job in your family? Do they still do it? Who’ll do it when they no longer are able to?
3. Now that everything everyone is saying, thinking, doing and celebrating automatically pops up on your Wall, do you feel more connected? Or do you ignore milestones and news more than you used to?

Today’s Something Else: A Thanksgiving Story (and Recipe)

Thanksgiving has always been my family’s holiday.

I grew up in a large extended family with grandparents and great aunts and great uncles who didn’t come to America until they were teens or young adults, so there was always this mix of Old World and religious holidays filled with traditions and “how they did it back there.” But there also were all of those “new” American holidays — and those were a big deal. They were a chance to leave all of the rules (and all of the “no, we do it this way”) behind and celebrate however they wanted to.

Because of the size of the family, every holiday was spent at different relatives. I don’t know how the women figured out who got what holiday — probably something like the Paris Peace Talks of 1919 that divided up Europe — but we got Thanksgiving (or, more accurately, my mother got Thanksgiving).

Each year, a varied group of relatives from both sides of the family trouped over to our house for the annual day to give thanks and eat Turkey and such. All of us loved it, but nobody more than my dad. When not creating a giant party to keep us kids out of our mother’s hair, he would take repeated whiffs and bites of pumpkin pie. It was his favorite part.

(Dad passed on Thanksgiving Day, 1964, after a brutal battle with lung cancer. He had been in the hospital a lot, but right before the big Turkey day, he improved enough to come home. Thanksgiving gave him the first happy day he’d had that year. And although his passing made for much sadness, my dad seemed to have planned it in such a way that none of us in the family would be alone.)

Anyway, I still love the holiday. I never miss a Thanksgiving dinner.

So when I moved to Paris for my studies, I just had to make my first Paris Thanksgiving the best Thanksgiving ever.

It didn’t take much — only a little searching around and imagination — to find just about everything I’d need food-wise. There was one exception, though.

I couldn’t make pumpkin pie.

Those cans of Libby’s filling? They didn’t sell those in any store, not even in the trendy, American product-laden “Le Drug Store” on St. Germaine des Pres. And given that this was pre-Sugaia and gourmet cooking lessons, I hadn’t yet learned the fine art of improvising in the kitchen.

I tried asking my mother to send cans of pumpkin pie filling in a care package, but when the package came (the day before Thanksgiving), it didn’t have any pumpkin pie filling, just a bag of miniature marshmallows. (OK, it was a definite American treat my new friends would like, but could I use it to make a pumpkin pie? No.)

I kept my cool because, well, I was in Paris after all. Besides being the City of Lights, it’s also the capital of the land of 10,000 varieties of everything and anything you could eat. Plus, squash is abundant in France, and pumpkin is a type of squash.

Problem solved?

Not exactly. Pumpkin may be ubiquitous to every American, but it is rare to nonexistent in France. My neighborhood vegetable seller said I could use something called potiron, which he said was the closest thing to an American pumpkin, but of course he didn’t he have any. (Although, in typical French fashion, he shrugged and said, “You could always try elsewhere — non?”)

With only hours left before I was supposed to be cooking up a storm, I panicked, dropped everything and started looking. After scouring every fruit and vegetable stand from Porte de la Chappelle in the north to Porte D’Orleans in the south I came up empty handed. But I was too stubborn to give up. No way was I going to have an incomplete dinner.

As I was about to consider just buying any squash and trying to fake it, I was told that If I went to Les Halles (a famous, really huge farmers market in the center of the city) just before dawn and found so-and-so’s stall, I might find my pumpkin. At no age has 4 a.m. ever been my time of day, but this was Thanksgiving. So I got up that early, made my way over to Les Halles and, lo and behold, found potirons.

Phewf.

I bought them, schlepped them home on the Metro, and somehow (I can’t remember the details) figured out with my friends how to carve them up for cooking instead of for making Jack-O-Lanterns.

Did the final product taste like a real pumpkin pie? I’m not sure. But it was there in its place of honor, and I had my piece, and I saluted my dad.

Willa Cather said, “the past is never really gone,” and that’s true I suppose. However, I learned that on that Paris Thanksgiving day that creating a moment that will someday become the past was much more fun than remembering the past.

~~~

Looking for a new recipe to try this Thanksgiving?

While I can’t recreate my first pumpkin pie recipe, I do have this to offer: In the French countryside, they make a tart with citrouille, a more refined variety of potiron, that’s wonderful.

Here’s how you make it:

Total time: 1hr to 2hr
Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 + 30 minutes

Ingredients
– 300 g (10 oz.) Citrouille  (Pumpkin ) flesh, peeled, fibers and seeds removed
– 50 g (2 oz.) sugar
– 50 g (3 tbsp.) butter
– 100 ml (6 tbsp.) heavy cream
– 3 eggs
– 250 g (9 oz.) pie pastry
– Cinnamon or ginger

Method
1. Cook the pumpkin with 4 tbsp. of water in a covered saucepan over low heat for about 20 minutes or until reduced to a purée.
2. Remove the lid and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated.
3. Add the sugar, butter, cream and beaten eggs. Season to taste.
4. Roll out the pastry and line a deep tart pan; prick the bottom; pour the filling into the shell.
5. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for about 30 minutes.

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