Thursday, November 26, 2009


[ A rough translation in German to Pumpkin Pie ]

Thanksgiving is here, and quite honestly, this very important Thursday in America would have just came and past here in Germany if I didn't make note of it.

I didn't want this holiday to just go under the radar, but I didn't know exactly what to do to try and bring some of the festivities to my host family and friends here abroad. About a week ago was when I made the bold plan that I was going to make pumpkin pie here in Germany -

What? Why do you need to find pumpkins? ... A dessert? Pumpkins in a dessert?

That was the first challenge - finding pumpkins and explaining that, yes, in America we like to cook pumpkins into sweet desserts - some of my favorites in fact.

Luckily, since Andreas owns and runs a small organic produce shop, he got me some... gourds. I think they were pumpkins... well, in German they are a Kürbis. It was just going to be my luck to cook these pumpkins [something I have never done before] not even knowing if they were the right kind for a homemade pumpkin pie [ also something I have never done before].

I was beginning to feel the anxiety that I felt back in Finland where the pressure was on me to make an "American cake" from scratch for everyone to try. [what is an American cake? I don't even know... see the post.] I had never made a pumpkin pie before, and now I was jumping into the responsibility with no lifesaver with the reputation of this American classic balancing on my final product here in Germany.

I did my research, translated names of spices, learned how to make a crust, converted measurements and felt a little more prepared. With all the research, ingredient searching, pumpkin cooking, butter-cutting-into-flour crust making, and finally baking, you might not be surprised to hear that the procedure was a patient three day process.

[ I made the pumpkin seeds too... I had those to munch on while translating spices ]

Tuesday night I cooked the pumpkin. I tried to act as nonchalant as possible - of course I know what I am doing... I won't explode your kitchen - but nonetheless Inge and Andreas were eager to come check up on things over my shoulder and watched with equal curiosity as me whether the pumpkins would be edible after experiencing my steaming contraption on the stove.

Night one went smoothly - the puree was not watery, and had a great, sweet pumpkin taste and a nice orange color. Andreas brought me some great pumpkins.

The next morning was the next challenge - the flaky crust. I snuck into the kitchen while Andreas was busy working on somthing in the other room and Inge was gone - with this step, I really had no idea what I was doing.

CUT in the butter, don't mix. Make sure the butter and water are COLD. Don't use too much water or the crust won't be FLAKY. By the end of the nervous mincing of butter chunks into the flour I figured this crust would either become the most flaky, golden delicious complement to the pumpkin that the Germans would ever taste... or the biggest butter-laden glop they ever voluntarily would put into their mouth. Well, into the fridge it went to rest... here goes nothing.

Step two was completed. That evening, after dinner and before we were going to watch a film on TV as a family, I whipped up the filling for the pie - a very crucial step to make sure that all the spices are right ... hard when you are working with conversions of say... 8 ml... [ This was also after the near debacle of finding a substitute for evaporated milk in Germany... I tried my luck with unsweetened German Kondensmilch...]

With the pies in the oven - still acting like everything was completely under control - I had an hour to watch the movie - and hope - that those pies weren't burning, inflating, deflating, bubbling... exploding, inside Inge's oven. When the time had come, we all went to check them out - it was all or nothing.

Perfection. They smelled so good, had a rustic color of being homemade, and the crust at the edges gave hint to a perfectly golden crumble. Inge said I should be proud, and I was - "it is so much work for this desert isn't it." I learned the hard way that it really was...

Complementing our lunch on Thursday - a day that would have felt just as normal as the last - the pumpkin pie was the conversation seg-way into everything about Thanksgiving in America.

So you have a holiday celebrating pilgrims and Indians? [Hmm... wow, I haven't thought about it this way in a long time... no we don't sit around in America and talk about the mayflower... ]

Every family in America eats a Turkey ?
Fast alles [ Just about every family...]
That is a lot of Turkey...

Germany does have a translation for Thanksgiving - Erntedankfest - however that refers to more of a harvest festival than what the entire holiday embodies in America. I have noticed a trend that I have been doing to explain American holidays. I start referring to Charlie Brown without really noticing it. When Halloween came and went; The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Now to capture the meaning of Thanksgiving, family, friends, food, appreciation; Happy Thanksgiving Charlie Brown. I don't think there is a better way to display the meaning behind all of the Turkey, cooking, chaos and huge get togethers for thanksgiving than Peppermint Pattie apologizing to "Chuck"-Charlie Brown that maybe jellybeans, toast and pretzel sticks instead of Turkey and Pumpkin Pie wasn't why they were all together for Thanksgiving anyways.

I got to share some of my family traditions with my host family - the Turkey Trot 10K race in Detroit in the wee-hours of the morning on Thursday, then getting home to catch the Parades on TV as the aroma of my mom's pumpkin roll warmed the house. Then off to the first dinner at Auntie Jackie's where sometimes over 40 people can cram into the house for the festivities, and one more dinner at my Ciocia Roza's.

Of course talking about everything made me realize what I was missing back home probably just as I was speaking [ wow, it is midday here... Adam and Dad might be running already], but I was so proud to talk about the great festivities that my family had, add a little sentimentality to this "strange" holiday we have in America "talking about pilgrims", and express to my friends and family here in Germany - over some great homemade pumpkin pie and freshed whipped schlagsahne - that I had a lot to be thankful for.

[ Success! my host parents enjoying their first pumpkin pie! They even brought out the champaign to celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. ]

Happy Thanksgiving!

Glückliches Erntedankfest!!


  1. Happy Thanksgiving, Chris! We were thinking about you yesterday, and how they don't celebrate Thanksgiving anywhere but the U.S. ... Glad you shared our traditions with Germany. Loved the Charlie Brown references!!

    Have a good one,

  2. haha. chris imagine me attempting a pumking pie...considering i tried making popcorn last week and completely burned it.