Posted by: scribe9 | November 28, 2009

All the trimmings

I’d been planning Thanksgiving since before we moved here. There was no question that I was going to make as traditional a dinner as possible. I could have just signed us all up for one of the Thanksgiving dinners put on by expat organizations, but I wanted to make my own.

We invited the American couple who live next door to Mildew Towers, but Thursday’s their soccer night. We couldn’t hold it Friday—at the same time our families would be eating it in the US—because Rick’s department had an evening event scheduled. The Emergency Department is full of Americans, but they’re a close-knit group and had their own dinner arrangements. So Rick invited his Icelandic colleague, whose three children were looking forward to eating one of the holiday dinners they’d seen often on TV.

I had only seen turkey as cold cuts here, so I enquired (one enquires, rather than inquires) three weeks ahead of time at the closest butcher shop. No worries—I could get a six kilogram (13.2 pound) bird to be picked up on the very day, since, as I explained, I didn’t have enough room in the refrigerator to store it, but it should fit into our little oven to be roasted during the afternoon.

Because I was going to be making the whole meal (usually I just make the cranberry sauce and the pies for a large cooperative meal at my sister’s house), I had to choreograph cooking time for the roast vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, turkey, stuffing, and apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies.

I started on Wednesday, roasting the vegetables and making the cranberry sauce. It was easy to find frozen local cranberries; they grow them at the north end of the south island, and harvest them in the fall, which this isn’t. Half of the sauce was lightly cooked—I like it runny, so the juice soaks into the turkey or stuffing—and half cooked until stiff, for Emily, who likes the jellied kind that comes out of the can with ridges, which we couldn’t find here. Ocean Spray imports a lot of cranberries, but apparently just for juice drinks.

Emily made an apple pie with Granny Smiths, an Australian variety which is the only baking apple we could find. The crust was made just with butter, no shortening. Of the three different kinds of shortening available, one is made from coconut oil, one is mainly suet, and one, intended for deep frying, of processed beef fat. I know that butter is saturated animal fat, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy any of those three white goos.

Thursday morning I made the stuffing, and the pumpkin and pecan pies. I’d been surprised to find pecans—so American!—readily available in a bulk bin. The only corn I’ve seen is frozen cobs; no sign of corn syrup. (There’s also no high fructose corn syrup, as far as I can tell, so Coke tastes better here.) I used golden syrup, which is made from sugar cane. It’s so viscous I decided to replace a quarter of the granulated sugar with water, which worked very well. The pie baked rapidly, rising at least an inch above the crust, and becoming a little singed on top, like Emily’s apple pie. I puzzled over that.

Suddenly, to quote Peg Bracken from the I Hate to Housekeep Book (which, along with The I Hate to Cook Book, The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book, and I Try to Behave Myself, comprises a hugely entertaining domestic tetralogy), “with the lightning-swift grasp of fundamentals that has long marked my slightest move in the household arts,” I realized what the problem was. I wasn’t baking in an American oven; I was baking in a New Zealand oven which had only one element, on its ceiling. Hence the over-tanned baked goods. I put the pumpkin pie on the rack at the bottom of the oven, and covered its crust with foil while it was still golden. Success.

After lunch I went to fetch the turkey. The young butcher I’d spoken with before brought it out proudly. It was wrapped in purple and white—a bird fit for royalty. “Six KG, right?” “Right.” He put it on the counter, and I noticed a bit of shaved ice. Worrisome. I poked the turkey. Yup, frozen solid. And my guests would be arriving in less than six hours. “It was supposed to be fresh,” I said. “Today’s Thanksgiving. I can’t roast a solidly frozen turkey.” His face fell. He looked at the order sheet. He’d forgotten to write down that I needed a fresh turkey. He called his wholesaler and all the butcher counters and butcher shops in town, but no one had fresh turkey of any sort. No leg, no breast, no nothing.

An elderly customer who was eavesdropping said, “Thanksgiving? Isn’t that the Fourth of July?” No, that’s Independence Day—hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecued chicken. “We’re over the International Date Line. Can’t you thaw it and have it tomorrow along with everyone in America?” No, it has to be tonight.

Finally the butcher said, “The best I can do is chickens. I’ll sell you two for the price of one.” Done. We bought a pair of four-pounders, and then went to a deli counter for some thick-sliced smoked turkey, just to cover as many bases as possible. Emily roasted the chickens, and I made gravy. We had all the trimmings; we just didn’t have a real turkey.



  1. What a great Thanksgiving! You are resourceful! We had ours in Montana because our daughters needed to be with in-laws this year. Our celebration was next door in our neighbors restored general store. (It is beautiful and has hosted a wedding.)
    There were 25 of us, mostly friends from the community and our neighbors’ family.
    I brined and roasted a 20 lb turkey which was overcooked (I am blaming the oven)
    I made three pumpkin pies and an apple with 4 kinds of apples. Also made dressing with pears and chanterelle mushrooms( from the last issue of Gourmet), brussel sprouts with fried capers, and the gravy. It was a bit tricky on only two burners. I will send you a picture (taken from our front door) of our neighbor’s cows on their way to winter pasture.
    Your blog is just a delight!

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