Both the French word dinde and the English word turkey are misnomers since the bird is neither Indian nor Turkish. The bird is purely American, like Thanksgiving. (By the way, the Pilgrims got the idea for Thanksgiving from reading the Bible and the holiday of Tabernacles, known as Sukkot).
So what to do in a country where whole turkeys are Christmas fare and are not ready until a full month after turkey day?
There are a number of alternatives, such as capon (which is a large, castrated chicken in layman terms) or turkey breast (which can be nicely cooked on top of a bed of stuffing). However, my French-style Thanksgiving was never fully satisfying until I pulled a whole bird out of my own oven.
In 2005, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my parents decided to visit at Thanksgiving so I had to put on a show. I called the two volaillers (butchers specialized in poultry) in Lille to get a turkey. Neither of them was able to procure me a dinde before mid-December. So I called a number of poultry farms in the Lille area until I found one willing to provide a Thanksgiving turkey. But it came with a warning : the turkey would not receive it’s final milk- based pre-Christmas meals, which would serve to make the meat tender and juicy. After some negotiation, the farm told me they could slaughter it for an extra fee, but I would have to clean and defeather it myself. When I went to the farm to pick up the bird two days before our feast, I was happy to find a clean bird ready to meet my oven.
A whole turkey between 4-5 kilos tends to cost about 50€. By going directly to the farm, even with the extra slaughtering fee, I paid 50€ for two 5 kilo turkeys. As opposed to American turkeys, you may notice that the French turkey is a bit gamier and is more evenly proportioned. Where American turkeys are raised to have a maximum amount of white meat, French turkeys have bigger legs, especially if they are free range as my turkeys are.
If you are not interested in celebrating Thanksgiving at home, but rather with a group of other expats and Americanophiles, contact the local American clubs which organize Thanksgiving meals. If there is no American club in your area, you can contact universities that host the study abroad programs. You will find that many exchange programs organize Thanksgiving meals for their students and you may be able to latch on.
Thanksgiving is also a time for children. Some fun Thanksgiving activities include making hand turkeys by tracing your child’s hand, drawing a turkey face on the thumb, the fingers as feathers and adding legs at the bottom of the palm. You can also have your children make decorations for the guests including cranberry and popcorn garlands or drawing a cornucopia otherwise know as the “horn of plenty,” the traditional harvest symbol.
If you wish to bring Thanksgiving into your child’s school or provide a simple explanation to French friends and relatives, here is a link to a basic explanation of the holiday in French.
So turn a dinde de Noël into a Thanksgiving Turkey.
Glouglou (which means gobble gobble in French) to all!
* This article originally appeared in the My American Market newsletter