American college students: here’s how to celebrate Thanksgiving abroad

This year I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving at home in the US. But last year, I spent the holiday in the UK as an international student at Falmouth University, having left my home of Rhode Island, US just a few months before.

Being far from home had been pretty easy to get used to – until Thanksgiving came along. That was the first time I felt really homesick. But I asked myself: “How can I be homesick when I’m in such a wonderful place that already feels like home?”

I resolved to make the best of the situation and show my gratitude by exposing my British friends to American culture.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US which, according to popular history, follows the traditions of the first Pilgrims and Puritans, who were thankful for a good harvest in 1621.

Like the UK, the US is a multicultural society, so Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in a single way. What’s considered a traditional dish or activity varies from household to household.

In my family, proper food preparation is divided among the domestic gods and goddesses, while those who aren’t so kitchen-savvy buy pre-made food from the closest grocery store.

Thanksgiving can be chaotic. Everyone runs around trying to get the best ingredients, such as the biggest turkey, unless there’s a preference for ham. Then you get both.

When Americans meet up in the UK, it’s easy to get caught up talking about the amazing touchdown from last Thanksgiving’s football game, or how stuffed you felt before even getting to dessert.

But as representatives of your country abroad, it’s important to remember that not everyone knows what Thanksgiving represents.

When I explained to my British friends what it’s all about, their interest helped to make me feel better about being away from home – and I was eager to involve them.

My flatmates and I went all out – it became more than an American holiday. There were Thai rice dishes and British classics alongside the traditional American dishes, reflecting the countries my flatmates came from.

We invited friends from the surrounding flats and watched them gaze with wonder at our transformation of a messy kitchen into a cozy spot that felt just right.

When we began eating, I stood up to make a speech and recalled how each year my family go round the table and say what they’re thankful for.

As I said this, everyone’s jaws dropped. They were embarrassed at the idea, and insisted that I do the talking while they drank a toast.

We ended the dinner with my cringey but heartfelt words, in a kitchen that needed tidying again.

It was probably one of the best days of my life, because it really felt like Thanksgiving.

If you’re an American abroad, I recommend you celebrate with all your new friends, and teach them a bit about our American ways.

Here’s a student-friendly recipe to get you started.

Pumpkin pie (taken from All Recipes)

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Ready in 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Makes 1 pie to serve 16

Ingredients

Pastry

Of course it’s easier to buy pre-made pastry, but here’s what you need if you’re looking for a challenge:

  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200g butter
  • 125ml cold water

Filling

  • 500g pumpkin, cooked and pureed
  • 1 (410g) tin evaporated milk (substitutes below)
  • 2 eggs, beaten (substitutes below)
  • 175g dark brown soft sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C/gas mark 6.
  2. Halve pumpkin and scoop out seeds and stringy portions. Cut it into chunks. In a saucepan over medium heat, cover the pumpkin with water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain, cool and remove the peel.
  3. Return pumpkin to the saucepan and mash with a potato masher. Drain well, and measure 500g of mashed pumpkin. Reserve any excess pumpkin for another use.
  4. Prepare pastry by mixing together the flour and salt. Rub butter into flour and add one tablespoon of cold water to the mixture at a time. Mix and repeat until pastry is moist enough to hold together. If using pre-made pastry, ignore this step.
  5. With lightly floured hands, shape pastry into a ball. On a lightly floured board, roll it out and place in a pie dish, gently pressing pastry into the bottom. Cut off any excess hanging over the sides. Pinch pastry securely around the inner edge.
  6. In a large bowl, beat pumpkin – manually or with a mixer – with evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. Pour into a prepared pie dish. Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Substitutes for evaporated milk – cream, or a mix of cream and evaporated milk, will work. For a dairy-free or lactose-free option, use almond milk and add one tablespoon of thickener, such as flour, potato starch, or even instant mashed potato granules.

Substitutes for two eggs – Either of the following:

  • 2 tbsp flax seeds with 6 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp chickpea or soya flour and 2 tbsp water
  • 1 large banana, mashed

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