Doing the turkey in Tuscany

How and where to have your thanksgiving dinner

Carolyn Abney
November 17, 2005

Thanksgiving - il giorno di ringraziamento - is less than a week away. Whether you are in Florence as a visitor, a student, or a resident, it is likely that your plans for the day are made. If you are an American or a Canadian – or the child of one – you know EXACTLY what Thanksgiving dinner means. But it means very different things to each of us.

 

Do you go for dressing (a side dish) or stuffing for the turkey? What does that dressing or stuffing contain? If you could have the perfect cranberry concoction – which you will likely NOT achieve here in Italy - would it involve fresh berries, or be a sauce? And dessert? Pumpkin pie, or pecan, both, or something entirely different? Your answers will speak volumes about where you – or your parents – are from.

 

Whatever your images of Thanksgiving, they are probably based on fantasy, not fact. Although we know the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, MA in 1621, documents mention fowl, which were more likely duck or geese than turkey. Forget the cranberries: if they were on the table, they would have been used for tartness or colour. More than 50 years passed before they were boiled with sugar. Neither white nor sweet potatoes were available to the colonists. Finally, the group may have had pumpkins and other squashes, but it is unlikely they had butter and wheat flour with which to make a pie crust. Sigh.

 

In polling members of the long-term expat community here, it seems that Thanksgiving has tended to be a tradition kept by American women (with Italian husbands) who want to transmit part of their cultural background to their children as well as experience the emotions of a much-loved time “back home.”  But because Thanksgiving Thursday is not a holiday in Italy, the meal is often served on Saturday or even Sunday.

 

Marie B. tells a wonderful story of when she and a fellow American friend worked together to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for their husbands and children. At the end of a meal she regarded as “lavishly abundant” and successful, one of the husbands replied that it was all good, but that “something was missing.” It was only then that she realised they had forgotten cranberry sauce. But, wait, how could this Italian from Salerno know about cranberry sauce? When quizzed as to what was missing, he replied, “You needed some stuffed green peppers to make it perfect.” 

 

She also pointed out that her Thanksgiving table (like most everyone’s here) is like the original feast in that it includes both “pilgrims” (Americans) and “natives” (Italians).  My first such combination had the Italians serving themselves the tiniest of portions from the buffet, just to be polite, until they were sure what they were eating. Then they filled their plates.

 

If you are cooking for Thanksgiving and are like 95 percent of your compatriots, you will want a turkey. You can order a whole one from your local butcher or poultry dealer. Some of the stalls in the Central and Sant’ Ambrogio Markets also have them, and turkey breast is widely available. A tip from past experience: be sure to check the size of your oven, so you don’t buy a bird that’s too large for it. Even if you are cooking for a crowd and have a large oven, the maximum size for your bird should be 7 kilos – that’s as large as a female can grow. “Non si fa” to have a male turkey. A rule of thumb is 1-1 ½ pounds or 500-750 grams per person for the bird. Unless you like lots of leftovers

Every cook is looking for sweet potatoes, canned or fresh. The “patate americane” you sometimes find are neither regular sweet potatoes nor yams and will not provide the taste and texture you want.

 

Florence has a new resource for cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie filling and other necessities this year: Sam’s Market (055.71.89.020). Jimmy’s Bakery (055.24.80.999) is also a good source. Some Esselunga supermarkets carry Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. Pumpkin, sliced or whole, is readily available. I find you need to add a bit of sugar to get the taste closer to American pumpkin and squash. But steamed and put through a food mill, you get a result that is “close to home”.

 

With a little creativity, you can make most of the classic Thanksgiving dishes with ingredients you find here. But the most important ingredients are good friends and a spirit of truly giving thanks, whether you’re eating in or eating out.

 

If you are looking for a restaurant with a special Thanksgiving menu, check out The Lounge at JK Place (055.264.5181) or Zibibbo (055.433.383). There are likely others; just ask around.  If you are a student, you probably already know about the International Youth dinners at St. James Church (055.29.44.17) on Via B. Rucellai. Their fall season ends with Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday, November 23. Seating is limited; you need to check for availability.

 

Grandma Hepford’s Chestnut Stuffing

from The Thanksgiving Book

 

Since chestnuts are very Tuscan and readily available this time of year, you may want to try this stuffing.  Read all the way through – two days are involved.

 

Makes 3 cups (about 700 grams), enough for a 4 pound/2 kilo Turkey. ¼ teaspoon is about a gram. Don’t be slavish – add spices to your liking

 

2 cups (about 450 grams) chestnuts

1 teaspoon salt

3 tsp. unsalted butter

¼ tsp. pepper

1 cup (220 gr.) soft breadcrumbs

¼ cup (60 ml.) hot milk

Salt and pepper to taste

butter to taste

 

Place the chestnuts in a saucepan, add 4 cups boiling water, and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and spread chestnuts on paper towels. Let them dry overnight.

 

The next day, put chestnuts in a saucepan and cover with 4 cups of lightly salted, boiling water.

Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drain, peel, and mash to a paste or finely grind in a food processor. Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

 

In a mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, salt, and pepper.

 

In a small saucepan, melt butter in milk, then pour over bread crumbs. Add chestnut mixture and mix thoroughly. Cool completely, then use to stuff the bird.

 

 

 

 

Having friends and family visit Florence for the holiday? Want to enjoy Florence in the fall? There are many long-term and short-term holiday apartment rentals in Florence waiting for you!

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