Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, the Germans are mostly unfamiliar with the details. This is my one chance to share a little bit of America with the people who are always sharing their culture with me.
Last year was the first time I ever attempted to cook any part of the Thanksgiving meal, much less the entire thing. I was nervous about it so we only invited my parents-in-law. It was so much work that I wish we had invited the whole neighborhood, so this year we invited 13 people and a couple of kids.
The guest list was all Germans except for me and my fellow American, Adriana from Changing Plate. She and her family made the trip up north to spend the holiday with us. What a treat! She brought a delicious green bean dish and an out of this world cheesecake for dessert. Another friend brought a sweet potato dish. For many of the guests this was an introduction to sweet potatoes, and this dish in particular changed a few minds about the flavor of sweet potatoes. Veteran cook, Jola, was in charge of the mashed potatoes. (Only she could make mashed potatoes ahead of time and still have them perfectly creamy and warm when dinner time came.)
Even with all this help, I still managed to be as nervous as if I was cooking the whole thing myself.
Now let’s get down to business. We ordered our turkey ahead of time because it’s nearly impossible to find a turkey larger than 8 lbs in Forchheim. We ordered one that was about 12 lbs (6 Kilos) thinking a turkey that size would fit in our oven (German ovens are smaller than American ones) and would also feed everyone. However, when we went to pick up the turkey, it was nearly 16 lbs (7.7 kilos.) Now I had an actual reason to be nervous. I spent most of the day before thanksgiving obsessing about finding a pan large enough to hold the bird but small enough to fit in our oven.
The serendipitous part of the whole affair was that our turkey was fresh and not frozen. It was just sitting in the fridge waiting its turn and it didn’t need to be thawed, so I figured I might as well take advantage of the time and brine it. I have always been on the fence about brining. Whether it’s worth it, whether it makes a difference blah blah blah. After this year’s feast though, I would say buy it fresh, not frozen and brine it for sure. The reason I say so is because it turned out extremely juicy and flavorful. After the brine, I followed Betty Crocker’s recipe and my mom’s roasting instructions. It took exactly four hours and I only basted twice. (You can find recipe links and roasting instructions at the end of the post.)
I had no idea that the turkey would draw such interest from all our German friends, but being that it’s not a popular bird to eat here, it was new to everyone. This was lots of fun because the kitchen was never lonely. Everyone was in the kitchen to have a look at the turkey while it was cooking, to marvel at its size and talk about the fact that it’s all meat.
Before the meal was ready we opened a special bottle of champagne and toasted to the friends and family we had gathered together. Then, thanks to my mom’s superstar roasting instructions, the turkey was done, right on time, brown and beautiful. We sliced it up while all the sides were staying warm in the oven.
Just at the moment when everything was ready, I heard a voice, a little cry, and I realized it was time for my little turkey to eat. I bid “Guten Appetit” to all our guests and spent a few minutes nursing. As I sat there, I could hear the klinking glasses and the conversations (in more than one language) between old friends and family members and people who had just met. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude–for all the blessings but mostly to my own mom and dad for building in me such an intense love of this holiday that I’d want to recreate it 4000 miles away.
It isn’t easy to build a life in a new place, but it is rewarding to try and it was magical to get a moment in the bustle of the day to marvel at all that has happened.
This year Thanksgiving really was a celebration of the harvest. The harvest of the seeds of hope and friendship and love that have been planted over the years by so many people. With all of life’s goals and dreams, sometimes its the simple things that really make you pause and thank your lucky stars.
Friends and family, lots to eat
A full house, a warm place to sleep
Laughter, joy, smiles galore
This is what Thanksgiving is for.
The Brine– What I changed: I used 4 cups of apple juice and I only used about a gallon of water. I brined for 36 hours in the refrigerator. I didn’t submerge the bird because I didn’t have a container large enough, so I flipped the turkey every 12 hours.
The Turkey and Stuffing– What I changed: I laid the turkey first on a bed of aluminum foil and then on a bed of sliced onions and sliced apples. I added apples to the stuffing recipe.
The Roasting Instructions: Create a tent out of aluminum foil for the turkey. (Make it easy to open the top of the tent.) Figure out your roasting time from this equation: 15 minutes per pound (30 minutes per kilo). Preheat to 450 F (230 C) and roast at that temperature for 1.5 hours. Then without opening the oven turn the temperature down to 350F (175 C) for the remainder of the time. After about 2 or 2.5 hours, check to see that it’s roasting and not cooking to fast. About 30-45 minutes before your time is up, open the top of the tent and baste the turkey with the juices in the bottom, leaving the tent open, continue roasting. Remove and baste again. Continue roasting until it’s brown.