Julia McLean serves up an exotic Canadian Thanksgiving dinner to her friends in France.
When I came to live in France 30+ years ago, I realised that, in order to fit in to a fairly closed society in La France Profonde (Deepest France – like the Deep South meaning very traditional and conservative), I would have to seriously into cooking. I decided not to compete with French food but to serve beautifully prepared British food using the best ingredients and the French style and know-how I had acquired in my youth.
I had started working in a boarding school in England in the swinging sixties, and new staff were traditionally welcomed with invitations to dinner. One old bachelor hand-wrote his menus and called his house ‘The Guinea Pig Restaurant.’ My French friends were very amused by my use of this name every time I entertained them. I wrote out my menus in French style, Hors d’oeuvres, Entrees, Plat Principal, Salad, Cheese and Dessert. English tradition puts cheese at the end of the meal and serves it with port but the French finish with dessert and white wine or Champagne.
Thirty years ago, there were only French restaurants in the area so ‘Foreign’ food was unknown. I was very rigorous in not mixing and matching. If the meal was meant to be Italian, everything was Italian including the wines and I did the same for Spanish food, Indian food, Japanese food and Chinese food. With British food, if I hadn’t brought any British wine back from a recent trip, I served New Zealand or Australian wines which were a great surprise to many. I went to a great deal of trouble just as my French hostesses did when they invited us.
I added an extra touch, when possible, by having the table decorated in the style of the meal. When I gave a Canadian Thanksgiving supper, we had napkin rings of woven twigs and knife rests cut from apple wood. I overlaid my dark green tablecloth with an organza one with little pockets into which I put real maple leaves and hazel nuts. I hung dried gourds either side of the front door and strung small cider apples in garlands around the dining room. This took a lot of organising. My sister in law in Ontario sent me some dried maple leaves. My husband cut up apple boughs to make knife rests and when the apple fair at Vimoutiers was being demolished, they passed on to me their cider apple garlands. The napkin rings of woven twigs were little florists ‘notions’ that were supposed to be for fixing little flowers in.
The menu was Corn on the Cob dripping with butter – very unusual for the French as maize is perceived as cattle food! And the fact of eating it directly off the cob was a real novelty! I bought the Thanksgiving Turkey from a local farm so it was free range, slightly firmer than a battery raised, frozen one but tastier. I made a traditional parsley and thyme stuffing from scratch using the chopped turkey liver and fresh herbs, smeared the turkey liberally with butter and roasted it slowly in foil. While this was cooking, I seized the neck, giblets, combs and feet in butter and oil, poured water over them and let them stew slowly for a couple of hours topping up the water every now and then. The basis of my gravy was thus prepared. I served the Turkey with roast potatoes, sprouts and roast chestnuts. This was also unusual for French people who usually only have one vegetable with their meat dish. We followed with a salad of crunchy greens and hazelnut dressing, tasted some Cheddar and Stilton and finished with Pumpkin pie. This may seem ordinary to Canadians but it was really exotic to the French. Canadian wines had not quite reached their present state of perfection or indeed these shores, so I served Australian wines.
A good time was had by all and the Guinea Pig Restaurant gained renown!
“Maple Leaf.” © All rights reserved by Just Peachy!
“Buttered Corn.” © All rights reserved by UT Archer
“Pumpkin Pie.” © All rights reserved by Ryke’s Bakery . Catering . Cafe
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