On Saturday I was invited to my first ever Thanksgiving by my American friend and her French husband and bilingual children. This Thanksgiving was going to be a truly international affair and set in the glorious Normandy countryside. In true Thanksgiving style every guest prepared a dish for the table.
There was only one rule set for the evening. No dish could be French, a slight hiccup for me having invested all my time in French patisserie! However, thanks to my sister-in-law I decided that Chocolate Fudge Brownie cake on a bed of molten chocolate was probably about as American as I was going to get! I decided to leave the ‘genuine’ to the Americans.
About five minutes before our departure from the city to the Normandy countryside I pulled a hot oozing chocolatey pudding from the oven and we descended to the car to get ‘en-route’.
Anyone who has done the journey North out of the city towards Dieppe will know that the road dips into a steep valley as it approaches Barentin with the huge Pavilly train viaduct spanning the escarpment. Perhaps I would have been wiser to reflect a little longer on my dessert before taking a floating pudding with its chocolatey lake on such a journey.
No sooner than I had started to descend into the valley, despite the fact the pudding had been carefully laid flat on the car floor, the chocolate sauce tried to find horizontal and distributed itself in quantity in the direction of the drivers seat. Having reached the bottom of the incline, and then climbing out of the valley, what sauce was left decided to once more find its level, pouring out in the direction of the boot. We arrived with a sauceless pudding!
Nevertheless, the chocolate brownie cake found its place on the table along side its more genuine counterparts and we went to meet the other invitées. What is the chance of two South Carolina families meeting on holiday abroad and discovering that they both live in France in neighbouring villages? Well it happened! There were Americans, French , Irish, Germans and English happily seated together around the table.
It gave a buzz for the conversation to freely swap from French to English and back again, with questions asked in French or English and responded to in English or French depending who responded with no-one at a loss to understand the conversation and no-one registering that the language had changed!
The French husband of our American friend explained the story behind Thanksgiving with his wife adding details. The turkey had been running around the farm earlier in the day before he met his end in the cooker, and the table was weighed down with traditional South Carolina casseroles such as Squash and yellow Courgette, corn and cornbread stuffing.
As dessert arrived at the table, our hostess explained how ‘Chess’ Pie gained its name. First it was necessary to explain the meaning of the word ‘chess’ which translates as échec’ for the French.
The story goes that there was a family in South Carolina many, many years ago who received a last-minute dinner guest. When the cook came in to serve dinner, the lady of the house said to her that it was necessary to prepare a dessert since they had guests. The cook was a litttle peturbed since the cupboards were bare save for butter and sugar and a very small amount of flour. However she managed to create a pudding nevertheless.
When she came to the table she presented the hostess with the dessert, saying:
“Here’s your pie, Ma’am”
To which the lady replied “What kind of pie?”
“Jess (just) pie Ma’am”
but her accent was so strong that the hostess thought she’d said “Chess Pie”
The pie was so good that it has become a traditional South Carolina Thankgiving dessert.
And believe me – it was good!
The French were interested to know whether we had any regrets moving to France –
It appeared not – and as I read once:
“You only regret what you haven’t done”
Though judging from the sigh of contentment on the part of one of the South Carolina contingent and the words:
“Aah, comfort food” – one could be forgiven for wondering!
As for me, my only regret was not letting the host’s dogs feast on my car’s chocolatey offering while I was enjoying my own feast at the table!