Like all French expats I’ve been asked, more than once, how we celebrate Thanksgiving in France. Well, we don’t: I suppose we really want to save our appetite for Christmas. Just kidding: the French would never turn down an opportunity to party and eat good food but I’m certain we would approach it differently.
Attending my first Thanksgiving dinner was an eye-opener. After watching my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law frantically shop and cook for three days, I was dismayed to see how quickly the meal was over: everything –except for dessert– was set on the table all at once. All dishes, hot and cold, savory and sweet, were served together and mingled on the plate. Everything looked fabulous but this French girl was a bit, uh, overwhelmed by the pacing of the meal. I think the guys in the room gave up on me and retreated to watch football while I was still working on the cranberry ambrosia.
When Rick and I moved to our current home in 1991, the floor plan allowed us to set up a separate salle à manger, one that would accommodate holiday dinners with the whole family. We were finally able to use the leaves on his grandparents’ dining room table and have 12-14 people over for dinner. I quickly volunteered to host Thanksgiving that year. Of course, it was going to be my own take on the beloved American celebration.
I wanted the meal to last more than half an hour so I decided to serve it in courses. First, une soupe. Pause. Then, une salade composée. Pause. Then, le plat de résistance. That year, it would not be a turkey: I was making confit de canard and pommes de terre sarladaises thanks to a business connection who supplied me with 10 lbs of fresh yellow chanterelles. Green beans with garlic sautéed in duck fat. And the cranberry ambrosia that Debbie makes (I love it, it’s like dessert to me.) Pause. Then, pumpkin pies and an apple pie that Debbie baked especially for me because she knows that, to this day, I will not eat pumpkin pie. I do believe that most French are genetically programmed to reject la tarte au potiron, le beurre de cacahuète and la bière de racine.
I was pretty happy with myself and thought I had conquered a seminal American holiday: my convives enjoyed their meal and, although it did not end in song and dance like most French celebrations do, we actually spent a couple of hours sitting and conversing at the dining room table, somewhat of a record from what I had previously observed.
Ten months later, the cruel reality hit: although my Thanksgiving dinner had been enjoyed by all, Kim pointed out that it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving because: no turkey, not dressing, no leftovers. I realized that holidays are not just about the food itself but also about rituals.
For my 1992 edition of Thanksgiving, I relented and roasted a turkey. It was epic. And worthy of another post one year from now. In the meantime, I’ll share with you what the French love to make with a nice pumpkin.
La salle à manger: dining room
La soupe: soup
La salade composée: mixed salad
Le plat de résistance: main course
Le confit de canard: duck confit
Les pommes de terre sarladaises: potatoes sautéed in duck fat
La tarte au potiron: pumpkin pie
Le beurre de cacahuète: peanut butter
La bière de racine: root beer
Les convives: dinner guests
Soupe au potiron
2 tbsp olive oil
5 large shallots, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 lbs pumpkin flesh, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 lb russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp sea salt
4 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp fresh parsley or chives, chopped
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the pumpkin, potatoes, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes until the pumpkin is tender. Puree the soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pot, add the whipping cream and the parsley and stir. Check seasoning and serve immediately.