Hurrah for the pumpkin pie
Her first Thanksgiving overseas – and as 'head cook' – was a success.
It was my first fall in Germany. I had a 24-pound turkey in my backpack and I was riding my bike uphill. Despite the fact that it was raining lightly, I was ecstatic.
Never having been responsible for more than a side dish or just setting the table at Thanksgiving, I was now in the midst of preparing all the traditional fare for more than 20 guests.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday – no overt commercialism, just good food and family.
Five months in Germany had been long enough to see that what Germans thought about America had everything to do with commercialism: Hollywood, McDonald's, and politics. I thought I should show my friends that there was a more wholesome side to my country, that we knew how to do something right.
I also wanted to show anyone who might wonder that I, too, knew how to do something right.
I had made a schedule for the two weeks before the big day. Now that day was almost here. My grandmother had sent me a recipe for making the gravy ahead of time with turkey wings. I had frozen a quart of it. My mom's pie dough was resting in the refrigerator. And I had heated the cranberries until they burst and stirred in the orange marmalade, just as a family friend had explained in her e-mail.
The only thing no one could help me with was pumpkin pie. Our family recipe is the one printed on the backs of the cans of a particular brand of pumpkin purée. Cans of pumpkin purée were, however, nowhere to be found in Germany.
Making pumpkin pie from scratch with fresh pumpkin would therefore be the challenge of the evening.
Most Thanksgivings are a group effort, multiple generations in one kitchen, pooling their talent and their hands to feed the family.
But I was alone. That meant there was no one but me to stir while I poured the egg mixture into the hot pumpkin, no one to crimp the pie crust as expertly as my mother could, and no one to tell me that I'd added too much fresh ginger, that I hadn't prebaked the crust long enough, or that I shouldn't eat so much pie dough.
When I took the pie out of the oven, it was darker than usual. What if I had baked it too long? Stuck in a land without pie pans, I'd had to adapt my recipe for an 11-inch quiche pan.
But you can't taste-test a pie. So I carefully set it on the tiles in the corner of the kitchen as my boyfriend's mother did when she wanted things to cool.
The next day there were a few moments of stress, and we didn't eat until late. The men liked the gravy, and the women liked the sweet potatoes. The turkey wasn't too dry. And the pumpkin pie tasted good. Definitely different from what I had grown up with – quite a bit spicier – but I loved it.
In the two years since then, I've added a lot to my recipe file. I've mastered my mother's cheesecake and her spinach quiche. I can also make Czech dumplings, German onion pie, and a surprisingly successful watermelon, feta cheese, and red-onion salad. I know the word for salt in six languages.
This year I'll be home for Thanksgiving. I will be the youngest female there, the one with the least experience. I certainly won't be in charge, but I've already offered to bake the pies.
Having to explain and defend my country and culture these past two years has taught me a bit about American values. Maybe with my straight-from-the-pumpkin pie I can reintroduce my family to a Thanksgiving a little closer to the original.