When I was living in Viareggio, Tuscany, I did everything possible to maintain both my Italian and American traditions. I wanted my two young sons, who were born in Italy but had dual Italian/U.S. citizenship, to learn about both cultures. Besides, Tuscans welcome any excuse to celebrate, especially when food is involved.
Italians are aware of Thanksgiving predominantly from this famous, all-American holiday being portrayed in movies, books and television. They are very curious about a celebration that seems exotic to them.
I remember one year in particular when I invited two other Italian families to our home to help us celebrate Thanksgiving. Both families had small children like ours which made the gathering very fun and festive.
In preparation for this dinner, I needed to find all the necessary ingredients for a true American feast. Among many things, my list included:
- A fresh, free range organic turkey (is there any other kind in Italy)
- Sweet potatoes
- Fresh Pumpkin
- Fresh Spinach
- Corn meal (substitute polenta flour)
- Whole Wheat bread
- Cranberry sauce: Oh, no!
- Sour cream: Oh, no!
These last two ingredients were not available. I contacted someone from an American military family who often bought me American supplies at the Camp Darby U.S. Army base in Livorno. I was sure she could find me some Thanksgiving goodies at the base. She triumphantly returned with cranberries and cranberry sauce but alas, no sour cream.
My Tuscan creativity and determination kicked into gear. I decided to try combining fresh yogurt (sour) with mascarpone cheese (rich and creamy). After a few attempts getting the right proportion and balance, I was rewarded with an amazingly delicious result.
With all the makings for a great meal now in hand, I prepared turkey with bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, Thanksgiving sour cream fruit mold, vegetables, salad and pumpkin pie. I was a bit on pins and needles as these were all new flavors for the Italian guests. I should not have worried – the meal got rave reviews and we had a grand time. The little kids were fascinated by the turkey. And we will always have the memory of that Italian Thanksgiving meal.
Historically, our house has always been open for friends and family to join us at Thanksgiving. This has led to some very interesting international guests over the years, including Pemba, a Sherpa from Tibet. What a sweet, wonderful and appreciative guest addition to our holiday gathering!
One of our most memorable Thanksgivings was when four young, Italian Alitalia student pilots from the airline’s Bakersfield training center joined us for Thanksgiving supper. One was our young cousin Gian Luca who had seen Thanksgiving portrayed many times in movies and television. He was very excited to be in the States in November so he could take part in this famous celebration. In fact, he talked about Thanksgiving so much to all the other young Italian pilots in his class that three of them decided to accompany him to our home.
So, on Thanksgiving Day, joining our other guests were four aspiring Alitalia Airline pilots in their mid to late twenties. They arrived bringing several bottles of good Italian wine, cameras to capture the moments and great attitudes. They said that any occasion that celebrated gratitude together with friends and family while eating delicious food was fine by them!
Being typically curious Italians, they had many questions about the origins of Thanksgiving and wanted to know what the pilgrims might have realistically eaten as opposed to what everyone serves today. The young men were truly interested and involved in everything that we were doing.
We wanted to give them an authentic experience. Unlike some other Italian families, we have always tried to make traditional American food for Thanksgiving from turkey to cornbread to sweet potatoes to cranberry sauce. We have never added ravioli or pasta as many other Italians do so it is the one day we truly try to “Cook like Americans.” Well, except maybe for one thing: our turkey stuffing.
My mother first got her turkey stuffing recipe from an Italian-American lady when we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in California. This stuffing includes whole wheat bread, turkey livers, broth, onion, carrot, celery, dried porcini mushrooms and lots of parmesan cheese. I guess it’s impossible to get away altogether from Tuscan tastes that are so engrained!
Our young pilots thoroughly enjoyed the entire meal from soup to the delicious pumpkin pies made by my husband. The meal was finished off with espresso and limoncello.
The young men declared themselves officially stuffed, tired and thankful and said they felt like “Real Americans” after a Thanksgiving meal.