Thanksgiving in Austria and other lands!
I originally come from Peru, but we never had anything resembling Thanksgiving there. I wonder whether that had anything do with the fact that we only had two seasons in Lima, the city where I used to live: summer and winter. It never got that hot in summer, mostly under 30°C and it never got that cold in winter either, although it was mostly overcast and very humid then, so it felt worse than it really was! It was so humid that the streets and sidewalks used to get wet, even though it never rained! I was 14 years old when I saw rain and snow for the first time and that was only because I went on a trip to Huancayo, a city up in the Andes!
We used to eat a great variety of fruit and vegetables, but they were not grown locally, but came from other areas of Peru, like the north, the Amazon region, or were imported from neighbouring Chile (apples and stone fruit) or Ecuador (bananas). One was not aware of the time of the year really and the only fruit I can remember being available in summer, when we used to go to the beach, was watermelon.
I now live in Graz, the second largest city in Austria, which is in the province of Styria. This province is famous for its kurbis (pumpkin), but the main reason for growing it is to take the seeds out. The seeds of the Styrian oil pumpkin are then roasted to munch on, add to soups, dark bread, chocolates and cakes. The main use for the seeds though is to press them and the result is a thick dark oil, which resembles used motor oil, but it is excellent poured on green, potato and bean salads. The oil has a fine nutty flavour and its dark green colour is a characteristic of this non-refined oil, which is an important export commodity.
When we first came to Graz I remember my children used to have what they used to call ernten dank fest in kindergarten, which is a feast to give thanks for the crops, so I guess that was the Austrian equivalent to Thanksgiving. People always enjoy when the crops come to the markets, but apart from the kindergarten activities, nobody seems to pay much attention to giving thanks for the crops.
Although I don’t particularly like the winter months, with the cold and snow, I do enjoy having the four seasons, as this is the first place I have lived that has them, especially with respect to produce. I love it in the Spring when one can get apricots, strawberries and raspberries and then in the autumn when the new crop of apples and pears comes out. I also find it amazing that one can collect walnuts, hazelnuts and even chestnuts when just walking in the city! We also have a weekend house and it is a pleasure to go to the forest to collect some of the food for the day (different kinds of mushrooms and wild blueberries).
I wasn’t thinking about Thanksgiving really, it’s just that I noticed that the kurbis was in season in the market, so I thought that it was about time that I prepared a pumpkin pie, as I had never tried one, despite having been to the USA and Canada many times!
I had heard much about Pumpkin Pie, so this year I decided to prepare one. I looked in my American recipe books and even searched in the Internet and it sounded easy enough. I had seen pumpkin in the supermarket, but I had no idea, which was suitable, so I asked my husband to get some when he went to the market on Saturday. He came back with a half kilo bag of kurbis pieces, but when I was getting ready to cook it, so as to make the 2 cups of cooked pumpkin I needed, I realized that the pieces had the rind on them! I did not know that pumpkin was so hard, so It was difficult to take the rind away, as there were many small pieces, so I decided to forget about the pie for that week and to try again the week after.
Next Saturday my husband got me another half kilo bag of kurbis pieces, but without rind, so I decided to steam it, so I put the pieces on my vegetable steamer, but then I made the mistake of going away from the kitchen! The smell in the flat let everyone know of course that I had burned something! But I had not only burned the much awaited pumpkin to make my famous pie, but I had also ruined the pot!
Next time around my husband was nice enough to bring me what was to be the third lot of cut up pumpkin pieces and he instructed me not to leave the kitchen until the pumpkin was cooked, as he did not want to run any chances!
I don’t usually like to bake pie crusts, so I had the bright idea to buy some ready-made stuff. I tried in the supermarket, where they sell ready made pizzas, biscuits, and gingerbread, but I could not believe that they did not have ready made pie crust! I thought that maybe shortbread could do the trick, but it is not Christmas time, so I did not find any of that either!
So I ended up making a Pumpkin Pie, but without a Pie, so that left me with a sweet pumpkin and that was all! But I must admit that my pumpkin pudding sure tasted nice with all those spices, beautiful, actually!
I am a kind of stubborn person, so I just had to give it one more try and I did end up with a real, honest to goodness Pumpkin Pie, with a crust at all!