Thanksgiving for our family is celebrated whenever we can. Sometimes that means mid-December, but this year we were almost right on the mark. The stars aligned so that we could celebrate last Saturday, a bit early but still in line with the Thanksgiving moment.
I love Thanksgiving, even more than when I lived in the land of the turkey, an emotion I associate entirely with pride. After all, at Thanksgiving I get to demonstrate all that is good in America. The notion of sharing; the idea of an earth and harvest celebration; a moment when most of the nation takes enormous pleasure in sitting down to eat with friends and family and, the best part, the reality that we have scrumptiously good and original dishes in America. This is a confounding idea for many French as they tend to think we all eat out of paper in our car. To see the warm, colorful dishes assembled at Thanksgiving fills them with awe.
I know pride is a sin and I shouldn’t take so much out of Thanksgiving anymore; I’ve been doing huge meals once a year here for a very long time. This year, in fact, I had friends texting and emailing long before the date “When are you doing Thanksgiving this year? We want to be sure to mark it on our calendar.”
This was gratifying. All that prideful cooking has resulted in a group of French people making Thanksgiving their own.
When Louis walked in Saturday evening, he saw crescent rolls rising on the entry table. “Ahh, your grandmother’s rolls,” he said. “They are Thanksgiving to me.”
Bernard headed straight for the oven. “Where is the beast?” he asked as he bent down to look at the larger-than-life turkey roasting within.
Betty, my arbiter of good taste who came with the crudités perfectly cut and arranged, set them near the candles then started right in on the dishes. “You cannot have a full sink when guests arrive,” she said.
Lena arrived with her gorgeous caraway and rye crackers and set them near the smoked herring they were intended to compliment. Her Swedish crackers are an integral part of my Thanksgiving feast.
Philippe came with enough macarons to feed the entire town of Louviers; David came with a beautiful dried fig, candied orange and cranberry relish and sweet persimmon bread.
Fiona, at nearly fifteen, was my sous-chef in earnest this year. She demonstrated her prowess with apple peeling, using the right tools without my having to tell her, making the pumpkin custard pie in a flash, rolling out the pastry perfectly, and treating the scraps as I would (she turned them into crispy little apéritif treats, seasoned with curry powder).
Seventeen guests clicked champagne flutes in the kitchen in front of the roaring fire. I surveyed the group and realized they had all heard my pilgrim and Squanto story so many times that I didn’t need to tell it again. Instead, I raised my champagne glass to give thanks. My thanks were for the food in front of us, but even more for the friendship in the room. I am the pilgrim; they are the indigenous people. Together, we’ve shared so very much, right down to the late night glasses of Calvados, when the table was cleared, the candles were low, the fire still burning.
It was a fine, French American Thanksgiving.
Stuffed Jack Be Littles
“Be Leetles” Farcies
6 Jack Be Little Squash, rinsed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
The white part of 4 leeks, washed and diced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
2. Place the squash in a heavy baking dish, pour 1 cup water around them, and bake until they are soft, about 1 hour.
3. While the squash are baking, place 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When it is melted, add the leeks and stir so they are coated with butter. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cream, and season with salt and pepper.
4. When the squash are baked, remove them from the oven, cut off the stem end (to make a lid), and carefully scoop out the seeds.
5. Divide the leeks among the squash. Drizzle with the hazelnut oil
6. Whip the remaining crème fraiche until stiff, and divide it among the squash. Sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts, and return to the oven just long enough to heat through the squash, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
6 first course or side-dish servings