Annie Hollister, daughter of caterer extraordinaire Mary Cleaver and one of our first contributors, left New York to attend Oxford and is now living in London. But having been raised by a trailblazing locavore whose language of love is cooking for crowds, Annie was determined to host Thanksgiving, even in England. Here’s how:
When I moved to the UK in 2008, I knew I would have to give up my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving brings together my favorite things — food and family — and the holiday in my parents’ house has always been a raucous occasion, with cousins, neighbors, old teachers, partners, ex-partners, roommates, ex-roommates, ex-roommates’ families and other strays coming together around at least three turkeys.
My first year in England, a family of old friends took pity on me, throwing together a full holiday feast on the understanding that Thanksgiving “is just like Christmas.” The meal was topped off with Christmas crackers.
Since then, I have done my best to improvise. Re-creating a true Thanksgiving experience abroad is never easy, even in England. The first time I tried to make pecan pie, I could only find the nuts available in shells and spent hours in my dorm kitchen, cracking them open one-by-one with a Leatherman. Pumpkins were also impossible to find in my early years, and I fell (happily) into the habit of making butternut squash pies to celebrate the season. In the years since, I’ve had Thanksgiving duck, Thanksgiving squab and a couple of Thanksgiving meals out. It’s always been something to look forward to, but it’s never quite delivered the full effect.
After six years, though, I was ready to make the effort. I ordered a turkey from my local market, rounded up my roommates and set to work.
Thanksgiving itself is a normal working day in the UK, so we planned the dinner for Sunday, and on Saturday I broke out the old-lady shopping cart and headed to market.
I had read recently about brining turkey in whey to get a moister bird, so our first port of call was Kappacasein Dairy, a local cheesemaker operating right in central London. I have been a member of their community-supported dairy scheme in the past, and a few weeks ago I asked if they could put some whey aside for me. After a number of energetic and surprisingly technical conversations, they promised to concoct a special mix of buttermilk and whey for the occasion — a task they took to with great aplomb:
We bought them clean out of butter.
With our buckets of whey in cart, we headed over to the Bermondsey Farmers Market, where we hoovered up onions, potatoes, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, shallots, apples for pies and pears for relish (no cranberries in London farmers markets!), plus the distinctly English additions of Swede (rutabaga) and celeriac.
The turkey came from Galileo Farm, a family establishment in Warwickshire. The Peckham family, led by Fabienne, raise meat animals of all stripes, including our lovely fat Bronze:
Our bird, we learned, had been a lady turkey in life. We named her Abigail.
While Abigail bathed in her buttermilk and whey (to which we added some bay leaves, juniper berries and salt), we got to cooking. Herby corn-bread stuffing was first on the list, followed by creamed onions that were roasted in the oven until they were sticky and brown.
Pecan pie was our major exception in an otherwise locavore meal, but we managed to bring it a little closer to home by substituting Scotch for bourbon. Although the difference was barely noticeable, I like to think that it gave the pie a distinctly British air. We made a pumpkin-style pie with an unidentifiable gourd, which came out mild and not too sweet, and accompanied it with an apple pie made from golden russets.
As none of us had ever roasted a turkey before, the Sunday was a bit of an experiment. We stuffed Abigail full of garlic cloves, thyme and half a lemon, surrounded her with carrots, onions and some leftover apple bits and splashed some wine over her.
While she was in the oven, we mashed some potatoes and seared our Brussels sprouts in bacon fat. The Europeans among us were shocked at the thought of non-boiled sprouts, but they came around to the idea.
The bird came out just fine. We’re still working on the leftovers.