My First Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving feast that ever I cooked was during graduate school in England. An American friend and I decided to host a holiday meal at his digs, which had a larger kitchen, for a motley crew of Americans, Canadians, South Africans and an Ecuadorian thrown in for good measure. This plan of course meant that I cooked and he, well, he ate. I spent the weeks before we even decided we could do this scoping out the local markets to see if the necessary ingredients would be available. I even went into London to some of the food halls to fill out the list. Turkey, check. Sweet potatoes, check. Cranberries, check. I even think I found Stovetop stuffing, though I would not have used it. I love grocery shopping, but I have never had such an extended mission. I wrote my mom for advice, and she sent me a very funny set of instructions that some how got lost in the move back to the States. The gist of her instruction manual was basically “why would you cook a Thanksgiving meal if you didn’t have to?”
So the big day arrived, and I spent all day in the kitchen with limited pots and utensils, and lots of disposable pans. The first foil pan was too small for the turkey, the second pan fit the turkey, but not the oven. So back to the smaller pan, wedged inside a teeny-tiny oven just barely big enough to fit the bird. It was a beautifully browned turkey, probably due to it’s proximity to the oven walls and heating element. Getting that turkey out of the oven was a maneuver, too. I had no pot holders, only thin dish towels that had been used by hundreds of students before me. I had to sort of wiggle the pan to shift it out on to the floor before I could lift it on to the counter. There were only two burners that worked on the stove, but I managed to cook sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce and green beans and corn. I made gravy and kept it warm by putting the gravy bowl in a larger bowl filled with hot water from the electric kettle. I even made homemade cornbread a few days before for dressing. The first batch left in the kitchen disappeared, so I made a second pan. Considering my limited resources and skills at the time, I produced a pretty darn good meal.
As we sat down on the floor of someone’s room to enjoy our repast, the Americans among us, representing Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama and New York, told the age old story of Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, the Indians, the prayers of Thanksgiving. We made everyone go around the room and say what they were thankful for. We did everything but act out the Thanksgiving story in our own little pageant. After all this production – the weeks of preparation and discussion, the cooking, the meal, the party, the guests, the story telling, one friend from South Africa looked up over his empty plate and said “So, is this like a big holiday or something in the States?” Groans released from the Americans. Where had we gone wrong?
I don’t remember what I served for dessert; it is possible I bought something from one of the bakeries in town. But now, I have developed a number of dessert classics for Turkey Day, and this tart almost always appears.
Pumpkin Cream Tart
2 cups gingersnaps (about 30 cookies)
½ cup cashews
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can), not pie filling
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup heavy cream
Chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish
For the Crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grind the gingersnaps, cashews and sugar in a food processor to produce fine crumbs. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix to combine and the crumbs begin to come together.
Press the crumb mixture on the bottom and up the sides of a inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
For the Filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and the pumpkin. Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the spices and the vanilla. Add the cream and mix until thoroughly combined.
Pour the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least three hours or over night.
When ready to serve, garnish the tart with a sprinkling of crystallized ginger pieces, remove the tart ring and slice.
Serves 6 – 8
Try Southern Pecan Pie as another great additon to the Thanksgiving table.