Let Inga Tell You: Tales of Thanksgiving — at home and abroad
Like lots of families, it was Thanksgiving for two at our house this year.
We could have eaten out. No wait, we couldn’t, unless we wanted to eat outside. Plus, Olof is really into the leftovers.
We needed a whole turkey since I like the white meat but Olof is a dark meat/drumstick guy. But this could mean more turkey sandwiches than even Olof would ever be able to eat. (It did.)
When the meat department guy said he could order me an “8- to 10-pound” turkey, I was deliriously happy.
“Olof,” I said when I got home. “I may be able to get an 8-pound turkey!”
“Yes,” said Olof, “it’s called a chicken.”
When I picked up the bird (10 pounds), the butcher said the store normally never has a single order for turkeys that small. This year it was 90 percent.
While consuming our turklet, Olof and I opted not to dwell on the twin demons of COVID and electile dysfunction but to reminisce about the Thanksgivings we spent in Stockholm when we lived in Sweden in 2005 and 2006.
Swedes are not all that familiar with turkey or even enthusiastic about why an entire nation would consume a large carcass of basically dried-out meat. Sort of like their reaction to baseball: “So the fun is the food?”
This from people who love the sport of curling. When we were there during the 2006 Winter Olympics held in Italy, the government TV stations (all we had access to in our sublet) carried every last second of curling and not one second of figure skating.
One year, we were actually able to be part of a largely authentic Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of an American friend, Susan, married to a Swede.
Susan had spent an entire week doggedly combing Stockholm for a turkey — very expensive and not easy to come by — especially one that would serve 10. A side of moose would have been easier, but it’s not really in the pilgrim spirit. I brought the “cranberry sauce” (made with lingonberries).
Usually if ex-pats are going to have a Thanksgiving dinner, they import the ingredients from a summer visit to the United States: stuffing mix, ingredients for pumpkin and pecan pies, cranberry sauce, etc. We ended up with a currant pie instead, which was, well, interesting.
So it takes a little improvising to have Thanksgiving in Sweden, not the least of which was that everyone’s traditional recipes were in U.S. measurements in Fahrenheit being prepared with deciliter measuring cups in small centigrade ovens.
Another American friend that year reported that she had invited 14 people to her apartment for Thanksgiving and ordered a 10-kilogram turkey from a trendy food store in the Östermalm district. That morning, she sent her husband and their baby in the stroller to pick up the turkey. But when they got there, the trendy food store said, “Oops, all we have are two 5-kilo turkeys or one 16-kilo turkey.”
Well, only having one small oven, they couldn’t cook two turkeys, so the wife instructed the husband to get the 16-kilo turkey instead. However, we’re now talking the difference between a 22-pound turkey and a 35-pound turkey, and the husband couldn’t fit the turkey and the kid in the stroller, especially as the turkey considerably outweighed the kid. So the wife had to go to carry the baby while the turkey rode home in style.
Despite her careful measurements that the turkey would just baaaarrreeeely fit in the oven, it didn’t. Big crisis. So she finally called the people at the trendy food store, buried them in invective and demanded that they cook the turkey for her. This being such a decidedly un-Swedish move, they actually acquiesced. So the husband was assigned to load the now-stuffed turkey back into the stroller, lug it to the food store and ultimately cart the fully cooked version back to the apartment. That turkey probably saw more of Stockholm than most tourists.
The U.S. Embassy in Stockholm hosted an annual Thanksgiving feast for the American Women’s Club the week before Thanksgiving. The U.S. consul told us that his last assignment had been in Afghanistan and, wanting to host a Thanksgiving dinner for his staff there, he requisitioned a turkey. When it showed up, it had a string around its neck and was running around in circles. They ended up shooting it.
The consul’s wife, meanwhile, was German, so didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving. The consul reported that after taking the bird out of the oven, he went to make the gravy, not realizing that his wife had already put dishwashing liquid in the pan full of drippings. She was incredulous that he was actually going to do anything with them.
Ja, Thanksgiving abroad. Great memories, and next year, hopefully family here again. Some Swedes would be really good, too.
Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. ◆
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