Thanksgiving in Austria
This would be our third Thanksgiving abroad (!) and our first as newlyweds. Apparently, new brides char the bird or commit otherwise heinous culinary atrocities in the kitchen when first attempting a Thanksgiving meal. The statistics stacked against me, I set out to create a traditional Thanksgiving feast for my husband and six friends, in a country devoid of pumpkin paste (despite ubiquitous pumpkin farms), pie dough, cranberry sauce, yams and Butterball turkeys. With each misadventure, my mom’s wise words echoed in my mind: embrace the chaos — it’s much more fun that way!
Step 1: Locate a Whole Turkey.
Technically, I accomplished this on a ride a few weeks ago, having found turkeys running around the woods by the road. While not what I had in mind, they at least confirmed whole turkeys exist in this country (though not in any market). After a week of watching people screw up their eyes at my request, I met a local farmer willing to oblige the special order.
On my way to pick up the turkey, I realized with trepidation that I hadn’t clarified how I wanted the turkey prepared. I had just ordered “one whole turkey, please,” hoping not to inadvertently order a goose in my attempt at dialect. For all I knew, they might hand it to me squawking on a leash.
Thankfully they did not. Savoring this small triumph, I carted the properly de-feathered turkey home to prepare for roasting the next day, only to discover the feet, neck and head (and beak and gobble!) intact upon removal from the bag.
Naturally, I googled. Surely, someone in cyberspace would know how to remove a turkey neck. As it happens, lot’s of people do, and they all say the same thing: just reach in and pull out the bag. In the US, prepared Thanksgiving turkeys are packaged sans feet, neck or head, with innards and neck (gizzards) neatly packed in a small plastic bag, tucked in the body cavity. Not so with the large foul in my kitchen.
Thanks for nothing.
For the record, to remove a turkey’s neck and feet, chop them off. As for the gizzards, you really do just reach in and pull them out . . . but they’re not in a bag.
With the turkey properly butchered, I prepared a rosemary/cider/orange brine in a bucket (yes, we are that fancy around here) and brined the turkey overnight. The “other bits” got roasted and thrown in a pot with fresh von Bauern onions, celery, carrots, rosemary, sage and thyme, then simmered to make a stock for the gravy.
Step 3: Apple Pie.
By this time, I began to feel like a pioneer, butchering my own bird, brining it in a bucket, making fresh stock and now pie crust from scratch.
A good flaky pie crust is tricky. Using a recipe from my mom (and her mom, and her mom’s mom), I cut chilled butter into flour with two knives. One could do this with a food processor, but we don’t have one. Welcome to tedium defined. Once I managed to cut the solid butter into tiny beads, each coated with flour, I rolled ‘er out, filled ‘er up and sealed ‘er off with a fluted edge. You know it’s gonna be good when the juices run as the pie bakes — lekker!
Step 4: Roast the Turkey.
I borrowed a roasting pan from my friend Betsey, only to discover it didn’t fit in our small oven. Thankfully the lid fit, even if it did create a little see-saw over the handle when flipped upside-down for this purpose. Ah well. I’d made it this far.
Into the lid, I tossed potatoes, carrots, onions and The Turkey (brined and cleaned), then roasted and basted the heck out of it with a maple-butter concoction as it rocked back and forth in the oven.
Step 5: The Rest of the Menu.
Montage! Our menu included: hors d’oeuvres of toast with goat’s cheese and caramelized onions, baked bourbon sweet potatoes topped with roasted candied pecans, romano garlic mashed potatoes, chestnut/apple/sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce (with real cranberries, not lingonberries!), gravy (from fresh turkey stock), an acrobatic maple roasted turkey with veggies (pronounced “wedgies” with a Deutsch accent — never gets old), and mom’s apple pie — all dishes made from scratch, with local, farm-fresh ingredients, including fresh herbs. Even the salt came from Salzburg.
Step 6: Round Up The Troops.
Our guests, four Americans and two Swedes, brought a delectable selection wines, whiskey and beer. My friend Carolyn (fellow American expat – check out her blog here) made a fresh feta cranberry salad and deliciously gooey warm brownies as finishing touches for the feast.
This is by far my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Without the gathering of friends (and family, when possible), Thanksgiving would be little more than a pile of food, because that motley mix of characters forms the heart of the celebration and renders the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. As my Uncle Ron would say, it’s Stone Soup.
Step 7: Strap on the Feed Bag.
We ate, drank and became increasingly merry into the evening and a wee bit of the morning, and by that time, I think we were all thankful for bed.
(images by me)