As the days grow shorter, the leaves fall, and the year’s final crops are brought in, cultures around the world celebrate the Autumn season. The ways each culture celebrates and the history behind their traditions are as diverse as the countries they emerge from. Today we will take a closer look at the United States’ Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that goes right back to the beginnings of England’s colonial presence on the American continent. In 1620, a ship of 100 religious separatists landed on what is now the United States’ east coast and began their new life in an unknown land. Wildly unprepared for winter, half of these “Pilgrims” died before Spring. Fortunately for the survivors, a nearby tribe of Native Americans took pity on them and taught them how to grow corn, where to hunt, and what poisonous plants to avoid. The Pilgrims worked hard alongside their new allies and, by the end of the harvest that fall, were well prepared for the upcoming winter. To celebrate, they invited their Native American friends over and spent three days feasting and thanking God for their abundance.
Thanksgiving is the day when the highly anticipated pumpkin pie makes its yearly appearance.
Even though the average American today is no longer concerned with whether or not their corn supply will last until Spring, Thanksgiving remains an important holiday. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans travel from near and far to spend a day of cooking and (over)eating with their families. Thanksgiving is one of the United States’ busiest travel periods of the year, with 31.6 million airline passengers traveling in 2019. The conviction that no one should be alone on Thanksgiving is so strong that often lonely friends and neighbors are invited to become honorary family members for the day.
The “main event” of Thanksgiving is dinner, with the whole day leading up to it spent cooking, baking, and decorating. The most important part of the meal is the Turkey – my family spends days carefully marinating ours, then hours slowly roasting it until the house is filled with its rich, full aroma. It emerges from the oven, browned and glistening to be placed as a centerpiece in the middle of the table. The side dishes that nestle beside this glorious bird are, while less magnificent-looking, essential to complete the symphony of flavors that create a Thanksgiving meal. Creamy mashed potatoes with gravy echo the earthiness of the turkey, and cranberry sauce adds a sweet and sour touch to lighten up all the heavy foods. One side dish only seen at Thanksgiving is stuffing. Stuffing is a mixture of cubed bread, celery, onion, and herbs. It traditionally is “stuffed” inside of the turkey while it cooks, where it can soak up all the savory juices. At this point, the meal is looking a bit unbalanced. Some vegetables are surely necessary for a well-rounded meal! Most families opt for a dish of green beans or sweet potatoes – cooked up with plenty of butter or baked into a creamy casserole, of course – we wouldn’t want the meal to be too healthy!
While it is tempting to pile your plate high and eat until you can’t breathe, the seasoned thanks-giver knows to pace themselves, because plenty of space is needed for dessert! Thanksgiving is the day when the highly anticipated pumpkin pie makes its yearly appearance. The earthiness of pumpkin is deepened with a warming mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, while silky, creamy custard gently coaxes it’s sweetness to the forefront. Completed with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top, pumpkin pie is the perfect ending note before you slip softly into a food coma.
Thanksgiving is a simple holiday, but an important one. Whereas Christmas is bound to bring an endless rush of chores and events, Thanksgiving serves as a moment of peace before the holiday storm. Besides a trip to the grocery store, there is nowhere to be except at home surrounded by family. From the cooking to the eating, to the collapsing on the couch and moaning, “Why did I eat so much?!”, the whole day is about being present with and thankful for those closest to you. And these are things we could all use an extra nudge to focus on a bit more.
If your mouth is watering at the thought of a tasty Thanksgiving feast but you feel intimidated by the amount of cooking, Crazy Nate’s in Nuremberg is teaming up with Louis Austin Smokehouse to offer a full traditional take-away menu this Thanksgiving (November 26th, 2020). For those in the baking mood, take a look at my pumpkin pie recipe below (converted for all you metric-scale lovers out there!).
What fall customs does your country of origin have? What foods are associated with them? Let us know in the comments (recipes are encouraged!).
Pumpkin pie can be a little challenging to make in Germany since canned pumpkin puree is not usually found in German supermarkets. Try a local American food importer, or make your own by roasting a Hokkaido pumpkin in the oven until very soft. Another challenge is finding a proper baking dish: the sides should be at least four centimeters deep. If you don’t have access to a suitable pie dish, try looking for a deep quiche dish. You could also get creative and make mini pies in ramekins!
For the crust:
130g (1 ½ Cups) Flour
½ Teaspoon Salt
48g (½ Cup) Shortening (Pflanzenfett)
57g (½ Cup) Butter, cold and cut into small cubes
4 – 5 Tablespoons cold water
Mix together salt and flour. Add the shortening and butter and blend it into the flour with a fork until pea-sized crumbs form (avoid using your hands- this will melt the fat!). Sprinkle one spoonful of water over the mixture and gently mix. Repeat until the dough is moist and can easily be formed into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk, put in an air-tight container (or cover with plastic wrap), and refrigerate for an hour.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is ½ cm thick. Carefully transfer the dough to the pie dish, trim the edges, and prick the surface with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes at 230°C.
For the filling:
160g (¾ Cup) Sugar
½ Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
¼ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
A pinch of Nutmeg
425g (15oz or about 2 Cups) Pumpkin Puree
355 ml (12 fl oz or about 1 ¾ Cups) Evaporated Milk (Kondensmilch)
Beat eggs in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine sugar, salt, and spices. Add the spice mixture and the pumpkin puree to the bowl and mix well. Slowly stir in the evaporated milk. Pour into pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C, then reduce the heat to 170°C and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Cool for two hours, then enjoy as-is or with whipped cream.
This article was first published in 2020.