Devon November 20th, 2000 Help!
We have a major crisis on our hands. The Monday before the last Thursday
in November, and we can't find any tins of pumpkin in all of Exeter
and surrounds. And believe me, we've scoured the area. This is very
serious, I assure you.
traditional Exeter city centre deli where we -- and other ex-pat Americans
living in the Westcountry -- have purchased this essential item for
the past twenty odd years, changed hands recently; we were shocked to
discover that as a consequence they no longer stock tinned pumpkin.
'We might be able to get something for you next week,' they suggested
hopefully but unhelpfully, clearly clueless as to the seasonal necessity
of this important product. At our local Sainsbury's, we can now purchase
any number of excellent and previously hard-to-find items from around
the world -- lovely jars of melanzane sott'olio, a range of superb vinegars
and oils, biscuits roses from Champagne, truffle paste and truffle oil,
Mexican chilies, Thai fish sauce and curry pastes, Japanese noodles,
Sardinian flat bread, tinned chestnuts (excellent for the stuffing)
and much, much more. You name it, the world's your oyster in British
supermarkets these days. So can you believe it: no tinned pumpkin. A
quick call to other supermarkets as well as to specialist food shops
in our area resulted in the same negative response allied with a profound
ignorance of the immense annual importance of this basic ingredient.
Tinned pumpkin, never 'eard of it, wot's it for? Yet we've been living
here for more than two decades and have never experienced such a cataclysmic
culture shock before. The world is supposed to be getting smaller, we
live now in a global village. For goodness sake, we can get pressed
cow's udder from the Valle d'Aosta DHL'd to us next day (thanks to Esperya).
So what in the world is going on?
my foodie friends exhort us get off our butts and make our pumpkin pie
from scratch, let me explain: for a good ol' simple American boy like
me, pumpkin pie just ain't the same unless it's made with tinned pumpkin.
One year Kim, who has long struggled with this particular American specialty,
decided to have a go and make one from scratch: it couldn't be any worse,
I think was her peculiar English reasoning. So she got a pumpkin (admittedly
not difficult at this time of year), duly cut it up, cooked it, sieved
it, etc etc: what a ridiculous palaver, I thought; it won't be any good
at all, I was convinced. OK, OK, I admit that when it came right down
to it, the pie was just fine (a little stringy, too light in colour,
if we're being ultra critical, as we must be in such important matters).
But it simply was not, I tell you, what pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving
ought to be (it's that unmistakable smooth, cold texture of pumpkin
pie straight out of the fridge, combined with the glorious scent of
spices, and topped of course with lots of whipped cream, that for many
of us is the real taste of Thanksgiving -- and that, I maintain, comes
from tinned pumpkin allied with using -- wait for it -- tinned evaporated
this is not gourmet food; it's comfort food, it's family food. It's
about the tastes that you remember from childhood (and pass on to your
own children). Indeed, I think it is sometimes hard for British friends
to understand what Thanksgiving is all about: a secular holiday that
centers around a basic and universal primeval urge to gorge -- yes,
eating in outrageous and uncouth quantity is part of the experience
-- born from a time of hardship; a celebration of survival, of simply
being alive; of eating until quite literally you can eat no more because
who knows what tomorrow might bring? Who knows indeed.
And so we enjoy
foods that the rest of the year we never consider eating, each of us
with our own family traditions and recipes: stuffing
(nothing varies more from household to household; nothing is more important
than this essential centerpiece to the meal; certainly stuffing, for
us, is far more important than the turkey itself); strange foods like
candied yams (bathed in lashing of butter, brown sugar and, sometimes,
marshmallows!); mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and apple sauce
(admittedly better homemade than out of a tin); gravy, lots of it, thickened
with flour and stock from the giblets; carrots in dill, butter and vinegar;
creamed onions (but not a sprout in sight). And of course pumpkin pie
and pecan pie (sickeningly sweet but also an essential), and in our
house, lemon meringue pie too.
because I chose many years ago to live a long way from my family; perhaps
it's because I'm an ex-pat who has lived down here far longer than I've
lived anywhere else in my life; yet at this time of year, and at this
time only, we crave -- indeed need -- the tastes of foods that may be
good or very good or perhaps to some even yukky, but which we absorbed,
like milk from our mothers, in our earliest days and years and as we
grew up, and so have become a very part of our being, of who and what
pumpkin -- for me and many others I suspect -- is simply one of those
© Marc Millon 2000