Sergio's dad, Señor Raul spent the whole day cooking with me. He was in the States for about six years in the 1970s and was really excited by the prospect of eating another Thanksgiving dinner 35 years later.
...and you have our Thanksgiving dinner in Peru!
I had been promising for weeks to make a traditional meal on this very American holiday. Expectations were high and, considering I'd never cooked a turkey before and didn't know if all the ingredients were available here, I was pretty nervous.
When I told my grandparents that I would be cooking dinner, they, being the thoughtful people they are, sent me a box of dried goods I surely couldn't have found here--stuffing mix, gravy packets, canned cranberry sauce and butter mints. I started feeling a little more confident that I could make it happen.
Tuesday I went shopping and found everything but pumpkin. In a country with such diverse produce, it didn't occur to me that they wouldn't have pumpkin. Ack! Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie? What was I to do?
I gave my mom a call Thanksgiving morning to get help coming up with any traditional alternative to pumpkin pie she could think of. She told me I should try a sweet potato pie, which was brilliant. Peru has about 5,000 different kinds of potato. Surely, I though, one of them would be sweet.
While Sergio went to the market to buy sweet potatoes, his mom, Señora Delia, came upstairs just as I started to peel the potatoes with the only knife I could find, a 10-inch chopping knife! Worried for my fingers, she stopped what she was doing to peel the other nine potatoes herself. My fingers thanked her.
Sergio himself was a little concerned that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. It's true; until yesterday, I had never cooked a turkey. When we took the turkey down to the industrial bakery oven downstairs, many of them were worried that I was cooking the turkey in the exactly wrong way. I finally had to say that "You may be right, but this must the American way to do it, so on Thanksgiving, can we cook it the American way?"
The turkey turned out just fine! We had dinner right on time, around 7 p.m., when the bakery could be put on hold. The final menu you can see below along with Sergio and his parents. We had turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, jello with peaches, salad, rolls and sweet potato pie.
See that pitcher of purple liquid at the end of the table? No, it's not a gallon of wine. That was Señor Raul's contribution to the dinner, and what gave it a Peruvian spin. It's chicha, a sweet drink made from purple corn.
Sergio and I invited all the bakery workers and their families to join in. Between everyone, 10 people had Thanksgiving dinner. Below is a photo of Señora Alejandra cutting the turkey with her two children. Little Carlitos, her son, really loved the butter mints my grandma sent, and before I realized it, they had all disappeared!
Before we ate, I explained the history of the holiday, and then what it means for Americans today (a.k.a. pigging out and then watching football). Then, as we do in my house, everyone gave thanks for the blessing in their lives. Some gave thanks for their families. Some gave thanks to God. Some gave thanks for a steady job. Others gave thanks for learning new things each day.
Yesterday I realized the opportunity I have here to share the most cherished, unique and lesser known customs of my culture. Not Britney Spears. Not Hollywood. Not Coca Cola (although I am very impressed by that company). But giving thanks to those we love in a unique way. I'm proud of my culture and happy to share it.
That said, before I went to bed, I realized that maybe cooking this meal was more about recognizing a special day for me than it was about thanking Sergio's family. But even if that's what happened, I don't think Señor Raul was disappointed. He had seconds!