Finally I did something I’ve been avoiding for weeks, and procrastinated from for six hours today — scheduled my furniture for charity pickup. Dec 12. Last day of work is Dec. 15. Finally, it seems real.
I know it’s Guyday, but I had to post this. Possibly my favorite black and white picture of Richard Armitage. Really socked me in the gut when I saw it the first time, Sarah Dunn as photographer notwithstanding. Guylty’s commentary is here.
Three years ago, we saw this for the first time, and it was probably my favorite simultaneous shared fandom moment — even now. Such good feelings, especially when Armitage sent a fan letter at the end of the evening — back in the days before Twitter.
and this, for the first time:
And, OMG, the first time we saw this. OMG, OMG.
Didn’t get to see the film until two weeks later, but it didn’t disappoint.
Richard Armitage isn’t a American (yet?), although he did say that he liked “deep-fried turkey, Texan style.” So he may or may not be missing his Thanksgiving dinner and holiday festivity while he’s busy in Berlin. But, since he’s in Germany, I thought I’d write this year about three of my German Thanksgivings in the 1990s, spent in Göttingen, where I did my doctoral research.
Germans don’t have Thanksgiving, although even in the 1990s they were familiar with it because of the heavy U.S. military presence. They get the general idea, because a lot of people in rural areas still have some kind of religious Erntedankfest (thanks for the harvest), but like so many things in Germany, it’s a regional as opposed to a national thing. If I’d’ve lived near a U.S. military base, I’d have had it a lot easier — because you could buy everything you needed for the holiday in the PX, and you just had to find a friend who had a military I.D. and thus access to those stores. But Göttingen was in the British zone, so nothing doing. On the whole, between students from the University of California and disgruntled Fulbrighters, I met more than enough Americans during that phase of my life, and after a six-month period of acclimation to German eating and activity patterns (during which I lost, wow, 40 pounds), I really didn’t need any more U.S. in my life.
Except on Thanksgiving, when the thoughts of expat Americans turn to home, hearth, and turkey.
NB: None of this would have been possible without the presence in town of a butcher / delicatessen with an extensive assortment of poultry products. This is a bit unusual in Germany, which is a meat-friendly place and where the flesh of choice is usually pork — and you can see from the picture that this shop features game in general. So yay for that shop in the Groner Straße. Even though I will now lampoon the turkey-buying experience in Göttingen, still, I couldn’t have done it without you.
Germany was a great place to spend Thanksgiving.
The menu: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, jellied cranberries, Waldorf salad, peas, and pumpkin pie.
The guests: ten people — good friends from my research group and their partners.
Location: common room in a private dormitory, Brüder-Grimm-Allee 57. Oh, and: I always celebrated the holiday on the weekend after while in Germany. Workdays in the special collections library were too precious for any of us to waste.
I had only moved to Göttingen that September, but I’d had to make a trip back to the U.S. for a conference in October, at which point I’d bought two decisive ingredients — canned jellied cranberries and canned pumpkin — and imported them back into Germany with me. I also pilfered mom’s kitchen for the correct spices for the pie and brought them back in a baggie. Thank heavens, because at that point, one could not easily buy either cranberries or canned pumpkin (and this was before Internet sales had really taken off, which is how we’d solve that problem today). Obtaining sweet potatoes was also a pain — I bought them at Ewert, which at the time was the Göttingen store most likely to have any ingredient that didn’t occur regularly in German food (that where was I got cilantro and lemon grass and Mexican spice combinations for a long time, as well). They were gold-plated, so the dish was small, just enough for a taste for everyone!
Discoveries came in this round. First, I couldn’t figure out which kind of German shortening to use for the pie crust from the labels, but I found lard in every store, so I went with that — thus returning the feast to the historic origins of the Servetus family, and converting me for the duration of my stay in Germany to a lard crust baker. I’ve never had pie crusts set up and roll out so well as those, even if they were tref. Corn in Germany was only sold at that point in tiny little cans, and it was heavily sweetened — one was most likely to encounter it sprinkled on a salad or a pizza — so I went with peas instead. Normally I wouldn’t have served canned cranberries at a party, but the raw material was simply unavailable. In order to jazz it up a bit, I made a Waldorf salad, which doesn’t really belong with Thanksgiving for me, and sliced the cranberries into discs and put a spoonful of salad on each one.
Guest reactions: VERY enthusiastic. Several people brought flowers. Ex-SO (at that time “almost SO”) couldn’t be there, which disappointed me, but all the other invitees came, ate a first round very richly, and stayed well into the evening, playing the dormitory piano and chatting, and then hit the table again around midnight for a second round. Most had never had that kind of stuffing before and loved it, most had not had sweet potatoes before (I made them the way my mom did — cooked and mashed up with butter and salt — no marshmallow casserole in our family) and none had had pumpkin pie before (reactions mixed). Their only disappointment: I didn’t serve wine with the meal. Which had never occurred to me. My family drank milk or water at Thanksgiving, and I knew Germans wouldn’t want milk, so I went with water.
But the biggest discovery was the turkey. I had looked in the supermarkets, and at the time, at least, you couldn’t buy a frozen turkey. Someone told me about the poultry shop, so I went there. I’d discussed with my mom how big a turkey you needed for 9 people, and she said, thinking of how people eat at our family meals, probably a twenty-pounder. (Don’t laugh, Europeans. It’s hard to find a turkey in the U.S. that is much smaller than that, and yes, we do estimate 2-2.5 pounds of turkey per adult.) So I went to the store and said, Ich möchte einen Truthahn bestellen, neun kilo. The person behind the counter looked at me sharply and said, Echt? and I thought, What’s the big deal? and said, Ja, echt. She looked at me again, and said, ach, Amerikanerin, and then said, ich muß mal anrufen, ob ich das kriege, which I thought was odd, because why wouldn’t a poultry store be able to get a 20 pound turkey? and so I waited while she went in back. Eventually she came out again and said she would take the order and gave me an estimate of the cost (I don’t remember anymore what the price was, but I remember thinking it was a lot).
When I came to pick up the turkey, which I did the day before I planned to serve it, I got a few surprises. First, the lady said, Hier ist Ihre Pute, and I thought, what’s a Pute? Is that the same as a Truthahn? But I thought I’d better not complain — at least it was a roastable bird. (Ongoing issues with noun confusion were one of my biggest problems in speaking German over the years. The stories I could tell you about encounters in shops.) Second, it was fresh. It had never been frozen. I don’t know when they had butchered it. But I had never seen that before. Even my grandmothers, who had chickens on their farms and occasionally slaughtered one to roast, bought frozen turkeys. What a revelation — a turkey is an entirely different thing when it hasn’t been frozen, and those German Thanksgivings involved the tastiest turkeys I ever consumed.
But third: I got half a bird. Literally. I didn’t open the package in the store, but when I got it home, I discovered that I had a bird that had been bisected along its breastbone. I was really confused about how to roast it, too. If you lay it on its cut side, you lose all the juices, but if you lay it on its wing side, you don’t get the pretty skin. I went with the latter strategy. I sort of propped it up with potatoes in the pan, and then layered a level of stuffing on the top of it. It worked out okay — but I’ve never been as nervous about a turkey turning out as I was that year.
The menu: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, real cranberry sauce and relish!, brussels sprouts and carrots, and pumpkin pie.
The guests: eight people — good friends from my research group and their partners. Smaller guest list as the available facility was smaller.
Location: Friend’s apartment in the Obere Maschstr.
Discoveries: Fruchthaus Schwieger. That year, they had bags of Ocean Spray cranberries in bags, just like at home (where I never would have bought a branded cranberry, but hey). I’d have been okay anyway, as that year, German friends had introduced me to Preiselbeere, a berry from the same genus, which would have been an acceptable substitute. But with three bags of berries, I made both cooked sauce for the turkey, and relish with an orange in it. An African store had opened in town, where I got lots of sweet potatoes at a great price. I had been back to the U.S. in the interval and used canned pumpkin again. Oh — and I had discovered the Bremer wine store, and had some very nice bottles of white with my poultry, thank you very much.
That year’s “turkey adventure”: The turkey from that store was so good that I definitely wanted to go back, and besides, they were the only game in town that I was aware of. I went in to order my turkey, and the woman recognized me, and said, Sie wieder! Wollnse noch mal so ne Riesenpute kaufen? (You again. Wanna buy such a giant turkey again?). Obviously, the previous year’s bisected turkey had remained in good memory. Well, I didn’t want another big one — fewer guests, and I had discovered that 500 g (a good pound) was plenty of turkey for a German guest. I didn’t want to spend ten days eating the leftovers again! I think I ordered a 4 kilo turkey, but I wanted to stuff it this time around, so I said, diesmal aber nicht durch die Mitte schneiden! Ich möchte einen ganzen Truthahn! and she said, bei der Größe ist das kein Problem, machen wir. The real surprise came when I told my friend whose kitchen I was using how long you roast a turkey. He wasn’t up for that, and he said, Du solltest einen Beutel verwenden. I said, A bag? Well, I hadn’t known it, but yeah, you can buy cellophane bags to roast a turkey in. That was the first time I ever did that. The turkey and stuffing were great, but the gravy was a disappointment and the bird didn’t look as good.
My memories: Then-SO was there for the first time and after his first plateful, took seconds, thirds, and fourths of stuffing. He was also an immediate convert to cranberries. I had a lot of sweet potatoes left because it turned out that my guests were just polite the previous year when they said they liked them. I think I put them in a soup later that week. And my friend Almuth, who had never seen a turkey drumstick, asked if she could have that piece because it looked so good. Well, I didn’t know that she’d never had one before. In my opinion, the drumstick is the worst part of a roast turkey. She started eating and I could tell she was disappointed and wouldn’t say anything because the canon of German manners prevents it in a situation like that, and also because Germans are dedicated plate cleaners. After about ten minutes of watching her struggle, I got up and went over to her and took her plate, removed the drumstick, and filled it with slices of white meat. I think she was a little weirded out, but her pace picked up at that point.
The menu: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, real cranberry sauce and relish!, several different roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie.
The guests: twenty-seven people — this was sort of my official going-away party, as I was planning to spend 1998 in the United States.
Location: Ex-SO’s student dormitory im Papendiek 16, more specifically the historic, timbered garden house on the corner. I wish I could give you a picture of it — I looked and looked and can’t find one. Trust me, however, it’s cute as heck.
Discoveries: I figured I was going to need a lot of stuffing this time around, so I made it with Fladenbrot, which was the cheapest way to buy large amounts of appropriate bread. I tore it into tiny pieces and spread it out over one of the kitchen tables in the dorm for several days, earning the ire of some of his fellows. I also figured out what the dried spices for the stuffing would have cost me, and decided to go with fresh ones — wow, that was one of the best decisions ever. I never went back on that one. Mmmm, fresh sage. There were vegetarians at that meal, so I made little fried Babybel cheeses — which wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it might be. And Then-SO was an enthusiastic helper, as he’d been converted the previous year.
This year’s “turkey adventure”: Having been to the same place twice, I returned for a third time, where the lady still remembered me. Was soll es denn sein heute, meine Dame? she said, slightly sarcastically but still goodnaturedly, I thought. I said I needed a 15 kilo bird, and again, I emphasized, I wanted the whole bird, not one cut in half. Gibt’s nicht, she responded (“doesn’t exist”), in the typical offhand manner of the northern German dismissing something (lapidar is the adjective I’d have used to describe her manner in German). Gibt’s in den USA! I returned, because honestly, you can get huge turkeys in the U.S. and 30 pounds would be a big one, but not so hard to find. Mag sein, she responded, aber wenn’s das hier gäbe, würde es sowieso nie in den Ofen passen. That was something I hadn’t stopped to consider. German ovens are small, indeed.
I decided to rely on her assistance and relayed that I had invited twenty-seven people for dinner. She looked at me and sort of scoffed. Ich dachte, Sie seien eine Akademikerin, she said, kochen tun Sie für fast dreißig? I figured that most of the Americans who Göttingers meet had something to do with the university, but I wasn’t having it. I can cook for a crowd as well as the next Midwesterner. Promovieren kann ich, I said, und eine Pute braten, auch (I can write a dissertation and roast a turkey, too.) She looked at me again, a little more kindly, and said, conspiratorially, Passense mal auf, so machen S’es (pay attention, this is how you’ll do it)…
The result: She sold me three fresh turkeys of a generous 4.5 kg each. I stuffed each one and put them in roasting bags. I roasted one in the oven on the floor of ex-SO’s dorm, one in the oven of the kitchen on the floor below, and one in the oven of the friend in the Maschstr. where we had celebrated a year before. I circulated between them periodically using my bike — but they were done quickly and didn’t have to be basted because of the bags. A half hour before dinner, I pulled the turkey out of my friend’s oven and a friend drove me the very short distance from his house to the dormitory with the very hot turkey in the hatchback of his car and ex-SO lugged the turkey from downstairs upstairs and we assembled the meal and carried it out to the garden house.
My friends supplied the beverages.
A good time was had by all.
You just need to have a little sticktoitiveness, supportive friends, and a cooperative butcher, and you, too, can have a successful Thanksgiving in Germany.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!