Giving Thanks for a New Food Tradition

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by guest blogger Melanie Hansche, executive director of food content and strategy at Rodale Inc

ThanksgivingThe guest list for this first-time Thanksgiving host sounded like the start of a bad joke: five Australians, a Texan, an Englishman, and a Mexican. (At least we had one American, right?) It was my first crack at hosting this special meal with our newest friends—but not because I’m a novice or a lazy cook. I’m a fairly recently transplanted Australian, and we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the “land down under.” But as a professional glutton and curious foodist, I am all for embracing new food traditions. So in the true pioneering spirit of the holiday, I dove in feet first, elasticized pants included.

There are those who believe classic food traditions are not to be messed with. I have watched a generation of Australians insist on cooking a turkey, baked ham, and warm fruit pudding every year for Christmas despite the fact it’s 90 degrees outside (and hotter in the kitchen)—all in the name of the festive traditions some of our British ancestors passed on. I’m not one of those believers. The more enlightened of us sat on the beach eating oysters and shrimp, sipping a cold beer or a glass of bubbles.

So I was somewhat thankful to be in the right hemisphere, in the right season, and in the right temperature to enjoy this style of rib-sticking meal. Of course, after the invites went out, our token American friend immediately peppered me with questions about the menu. Would there be turkey? Would there be stuffing? Would there be a green bean casserole just like the one her mom made? I don’t think she trusted this Aussie to bring the goods to the table.

I agreed to honor the basic premise of the Thanksgiving meal: big-ass bird, multiple sides, and pie, and she would bring stuffing—because apparently you can’t have Thanksgiving without stuffing (which, curiously, never sees the inside of the turkey these days).

All the traditional elements would be there: turkey, cranberry, sweet potato, greens, and brussels sprouts. And of course, I insisted on sourcing an organic bird that had lived a fat and happy life. But I did want to play around with a lighter, more modern approach (sorry, folks, no marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes here) and also make the tradition feel more personal by embellishing a little.

I opted for a porchetta-style roasted turkey breast, aka “turketta,” stuffed with herbs and lemon zest before being rolled, draped with bacon, and roasted. This genius dish cooks in half the time of a full bird, is kept deliciously juicy by its bacon blanket, and is drizzled with the pan juices before serving (no need for gravy). The cranberry component came by way of a peppy, fresh cranberry and apple relish spiked with orange zest and cinnamon; brussels sprouts found their way into a creamy gratin with a pecan and maple crumb topping; and raw collards entered a happy marriage with roasted sweet potato, cumin, and a ginger-lime dressing.

The Aussie embellishment came by way of a batch of pumpkin scones (an Australian scone is a very light and fluffy version of America’s biscuits), a very traditional dish made famous by a governor’s wife and politician herself named Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen (Flo, for short; my version of the recipe is below). I found this to be very fitting, given how much the U.S. embraces the gourd as a symbol of fall. They are best eaten warm with butter.

In addition to the scones and pies—cranberry and sage, and maple-pecan—there was trifle (because you can’t come from the British Commonwealth and not have trifle for a festive occasion). Particularly when it’s a gingerbread, sherry, and caramel trifle.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what the American made of this Australian-American mash-up menu? As fate would have it, she was called away unexpectedly, but the rest of the motley crew ate till it hurt. And then ate some more. We were all thankful for new friends in our newly adopted country and a new food tradition we are now able to call our own.

Aussie Flo’s Pumpkin Scones
Makes about 16

Ingredients:

  • ½ stick butter, chopped
  • ¼ cup superfine sugar
  • 1egg yolk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3¼ cups self-rising flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Milk, for glazing

Directions:

1. Heat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with a stand or hand mixer until pale and creamy, about 6 minutes.

3. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine.

4. Stir in the pumpkin puree until well combined.

5. Add the flour and salt and mix quickly and lightly with a spatula until combined and a dough starts to form.

6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead very lightly into a dough. Press out to a 1-inch-thick rectangle. If it feels sticky, dust it with a little more flour.

7. Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter or glass, cut out the scones (push down; don’t twist the cutter), rerolling the dough as necessary. Place snugly side by side on the baking sheet; brush the tops with milk and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden.

Hansche_MelanieMelanie Hansche is Rodale Inc’s “Minister of Food,” and is charged with growing the company’s food footprint and telling a richer food story for it in print, digital, and events. She has worked variously as a magazine editor, cookbook editor, restaurant reviewer, and food writer. An Australian of German decent who most recently worked for food celebrity Donna Hay, she left Australia one year ago and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, a peddler of fine wines, and Roberta, their fledgling rubber plant. Melanie is editing Maria’s first cookbook, to be published in fall of 2016.

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