Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A British Thanksgiving

This month we’re remembering holiday meals of years' past. I don’t have a story about a meal that came out wrong. No one trusts me to cook. For example, this year I am charged with bringing fruit salad to Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been told it’s because I do such a nice fruit salad. Uh-huh.

I do have a story about a memorable Thanksgiving. In 2000 I was in Leeds, England visiting a friend over the week of Thanksgiving. She’s an American and was without family that Thanksgiving. I wanted to get away because my fiancé had dumped me and called off the wedding a few months before…but that’s a different story.

So there we were in England. It was cold and rainy and damp as only northern England can be. I brought two cans of pumpkin in my suitcase, so my friend and I could have some sort of Thanksgiving meal in between visiting the home of the Brontes and stopping in every local pub in the greater Leeds area. I had an affinity for cider that year.

So Thanksgiving Day we walked to the grocery store. My friend didn’t have a car, and this might be hard to believe, but lots of English don’t have cars. They actually walk and take the bus everywhere. I’ve never walked so much in my life except for the other times I’ve been in England.

At the store, we were looking for pre-made pie crusts in which to dump the cans of pumpkin I had lugged all the way across the Atlantic. But there were no pre-made pie crusts to be found. Apparently, the English not only don’t drive, they make their own pie crusts. I don’t know where they find the time with all that extra walking they do. We had to settle for two tart crusts. I guess the English don’t make their own tart crusts. And remember, the UK doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so they hadn’t stocked up on Thanksgiving supplies like the stores in the US. We bought some other Thanksgiving essentials—I can’t remember what now—but not many because we had to carry all of it home on that long walk.

Back at the flat (love saying that), we started to make pumpkin pie, which attracted the amused interest of my friend’s roommates. They thought pumpkin pie sounded disgusting. Of course, blood pudding is so much more appetizing. Right away, we knew we had a problem. The directions for cooking the pumpkin pie—which we had to divide in two since we had two small tart crusts instead of one large pie crust—were in Fahrenheit, and the ovens in England were in Celsius. The metric system strikes again!

And now we had to make sure the pie was good or prove my friend’s roommates correct. Luckily, my friend was getting her PhD in geophysics or something smart like that, so she could do the conversions. We hoped.

We put the pie in, went and sat by the radiator where our jeans were drying (no dryers in England as far as I can tell), and watched “East Enders.”

Some time later the pie was done, and we invited everyone to join us. Much as the Pilgrims may have hesitated when the Indians offered them new fare on that first Thanksgiving, our British friends hesitated to taste the pumpkin pie—or were they tarts? But after the first bite everyone wanted seconds.

And you thought I could only make fruit salad.


  1. I was in Canada on business one Thanksgiving--they have a comparable holiday but not on the same date. Odd how such an American holiday takes on greater significance when you're far from home. Bet that pumpkin pie was particularly scrumptious.

  2. Shana~ What a great storyl I love that you brought pumpkin all the way from the US. I remember when my cousin and his family moved to Ireland, they brought Kraft Macaroni and Cheese--I just shook my head.

  3. LOL, Shana, that's great!!! I've never made pumpkin pie, mainly because I prefer chocolate to everything else!!! But I'm so glad it turned out well.

    Grace, my mother and all her relatives were from Canada, and so her MacNeill family that were deposited in Prince Edward Island around 1770 (instead of where they'd paid passage to go--NC) ended up with a whole lot of other Highlanders in a vastly unpopulated region. They refused to leave the ship, until it ran aground and they were running out of food on board. If the local Indians hadn't shown them how to find walrus to survive on, they wouldn't have made it through the winter. They traded what they had, and ended up staying on the island. But a Thanksgiving feast was definitely enjoyed, only I'm sure it would have been more like walrus meat!!!

  4. Shana, I'm wondering if how-ever-many-years-later those Brits are wishing they'd asked for the recipe? Betcha every year at this time they tell a story on a blog that talks about this crazy American who made this fabulous dessert and they crave it every single fall.

  5. Fun story, Shana! My only question is this: Did you ever try the blood pudding???

  6. I did, Cheryl!!! Just so I knew what it tasted like for the stories I write. I couldn't make myself eat haggis, but I should have!

  7. It's amazing how something so common place to us is so totally foreign to others. I guess it's not really amazing, but pumpkin pie? Come on. Everyone should have pumpkin pie. I'll pass on the blood pudding however. Those are two words that should not be used in the same sentence much less to describe a single food.

    Fun story!

  8. Anyone who wants my pumpkin pie recipe can look on the back of the can--only they don't sell it in the UK. I think that's the first trip I ever took where my suitcase was lighter on the way back.

    No, Cheryl, I've never had blood pudding. I'm a vegetarian. But I have a good imagination.

  9. What a story! I could just see it. And when I imagine going through airports lugging two cans of Libby's pumpkin pie filling ...those suckers are big and heavy!

    But you know, these days I'm far more interested in cooking up a story than making dinner.

    Look at the ingredients you already have assembled. Ex-fiance, flight to another country to avoid reminders of broken heart. Backpack loaded with cans of pumpkin pie filling. Add a hunky guy.Mix thoroughly. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly.

    Pie be-damned. You have great recipe for a lighthearted romance.

  10. What a fun story, Shana! We're going to try a pumpkin soup this week too.... :)

  11. Sounds like you had a fabulous Thanksgiving to me. You were with a friend and the pie/tarts turned out delicious even to the Brits.
    Very successful indeed!

  12. Shana, I knew this was going to be my kind of Thanksgiving story when I saw the canned food at the top of the post! It does sound like a good story for an American-in-England-Bridget-Jones-type story.
    And Terry, we had haggis at a restaurant in Portree that was so good we went back for seconds. It was incredible - even Scrape liked it and he normally won't eat that kind of thing. It's all about the seasoning.

  13. LOL Shana!

    I always make the pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    My husband was in England all of November and December in 1999 when his company sent him over there.

    He didn't get Thanksgiving dinner, but a co worker took him to his home in Holland for Christmas.

    I was so glad he had all these experiences even if I was also jealous. And he caught a glimpse of the Queen Mum.

  14. I know, Olivia! They acted like pumpkin pie was the strangest thing ever. I'm like, have you eaten British food? There actually was a guy I had a little crush on Mary Margret. We called him Wookie (romantic, huh?). Too bad I write historicals...

    Let us know how the soup turns out, Catherine. Thanks, Joanne and Amelia. I did end up having fun. And who wouldn't want to see the Queen Mum, Linda?

  15. Great story, Shana! I can't cook either. LOL Loved reading about the little nuances of English living.

  16. Great pumpkin pie story. So Brits don't have pumpkin in a can? How odd! Add that to the long list of stuff I didn't know! And I agree with the comments about blood pudding, the name alone stands as a warning not to consume it.

  17. What a wonderful story, Shana! And oh, how I envy a visit to England. So far, I have only managed it in my imagination.

  18. Shana - I've been laughing out loud at the story.

    I used to make pastry for pies - I'd instead of a pie crust, to save time, a lot of Brits might buy ready made shortcrust, puff or filo pastry so you don't have to rub in of the flour and butter etc

    I have a food processor but I still very occasionally make pastry by hand - for all those mince pies.

    Mind you, I also buy then 99% of the time!

    Re cars - we have two BUT I walk everywhere if I possibly can.I just like walking.

    I agree that Blood pudding (black pudding) is truly disgusting. Rather have pumpkin pie any day.

  19. PS if any of you are around in the UK soon, come on over and say hello. We have two cars and a tumble drier!