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Readers' tips: How to create the perfect Thanksgiving in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Readers' tips: How to create the perfect Thanksgiving in France
A turkey is prepared in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

For many Americans, the fourth Thursday in November - aka Thanksgiving - is the most important holiday in their cultural calendar, but finding everything you need for the perfect celebration in France can be a challenge. Readers of The Local share some tips.

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Thanksgiving is, naturally, not an event that the French mark, and although there are a few restaurants in Paris that hold special dinners, these usually get booked up months in advance.

That means for most Americans, it's a home-made Thanksgiving. You might have to miss out on watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and American football on TV (not to mention the public holiday), but it's still possible to create your own special day. 

We asked our American readers for their tips on creating the perfect Thanksgiving when they are a long way from US stores.

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Everyone agreed that the key thing is advance planning - stores in France won't stock up on Thanksgiving items and some of the things you want may be hard to find, so you need to get organised.

In terms of cooking, there are some items that are hard to find in France, but alternatives are usually available, although you're likely to be doing more cooking from scratch.

Turkey

The centrepiece of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is of course a turkey. 

Remember that the French for turkey is une dinde - not le dindon as that applies to the living animal. They are available in France but farmers are mostly aiming at the Christmas market, so if you want a big turkey for Thanksgiving you will need to order it in advance from your butcher (at least one week or so).

You can also try larger supermarkets, like Costco, but your butcher is a safer bet.

Reader Chris told us: "It is unlikely that you will be able to walk in and find a turkey.

"They're bred to be ready for Christmas so you need to order in advance. They will be small (around 4 kilo) for the same reason as above."

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If you didn't order your turkey in time, or you just fancy a change, French butchers are well stocked with alternative poultry - try a pintande (guinea fowl) or oie (goose) or a farm-reared chicken (poulet d'élevage). 

French poultry is usually not bred to be massive - farmers say it kills the flavour - so if you're having a lot of guests you will probably need several birds.

Pumpkin pie

This classic dessert is not a particular favourite in France, so if you want one you're probably going to have to make it.

Canned pumpkins are not easy to find, but you usually can order them online (on Amazon.fr, for example). You might also want to check to see if you are located near an American grocery store. In Paris, you might test out the 'Real McCoy' store in the 7th arrondissement.

You can also consider making your own. Pumpkins and squashes are very much in season in November so French markets and supermarkets will be full of them - then all you have to do is peel, bake and purée the pumpkins yourself, before you start on the pie. You can find a sample recipe here.

If all that sounds a bit too much like hard work, be aware that in many cities there are private cooks and catering services who will bake whatever desserts or pies you want, and probably deliver them too, in exchange of course for a fee. One example is Nadege's Cakes, more info here.

Many of these are located around the capital area, and some offer full Thanksgiving meals. 

Trimmings 

Likewise most of the trimmings of your dinner will be available in France, but probably not all in the same place. You might consider trying the international section in large chains, like Auchan. If you live near Paris, the 'Grand Épicerie' often has a large selection of typically 'American' items.

Yams (or sweet potatoes as they're sometimes known - patate douce in French) are available from bigger supermarkets and in some markets, especially in areas with a large African population. If you want them candied, you're going to have to add your own sweet treats.

Likewise corn is available, usually whole and on the cob rather than creamed, from supermarkets and markets.

Cranberry (canneberges in French) sauce is hard to find ready-made, but fresh cranberries can be bought at bigger markets in the winter so you can make your own sauce. Recently, Picard has begun selling bagged frozen cranberries.

In short, if you're expecting to run down to the market the day before and grab everything you need for your Thanksgiving dinner, then you're likely to be disappointed - although many readers told us that ingredients are easier to find than they used to be.

Reader ChrisInParis responded to The Local on Twitter. He said: "Unlike in the past, it's now fairly easy to buy everything you need, though count on paying a lot (€80) for a turkey. Sweet potatoes used to mostly only at Château Rouge markets but are everywhere. Even cranberries are easy to find. Expensive but overall quality is higher here."

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Cooking tips

You're likely to be doing a lot of cooking to make all those things from scratch, so several readers recommended some handy websites.

Tish Devling described Alex French Guy Cooking's Thanksgiving prep timeline and recipe sources for nine dishes as "pretty epic". 

While Gina Dellilios recommended food publication Bon Appetit which has a selection of articles covering various aspects of Thanksgiving from the meal from how to produce the perfect brussels sprouts to Thanksgiving cocktails and, of course, the turkey

You might also consider the Paris-based American chef, David Lebovitz, who often recommends restaurants and recipes for people living or visiting France. 

However even with the best intentions, if you're living in a small apartment, the cooking itself can be tough. 

One American living in France said that with this in mind, with all the baking and roasting that awaits you, you might want to ask a friendly neighbour - preferably one who has been invited to dinner - if you can rent out or borrow their oven for the day.

Decorations

And let's not forget about the decorations. 

Getting hold of those may be even more difficult than getting hold of some of the more traditional foodstuffs but don't worry, there are lots of websites with ideas for how to make them at home - and if you have kids, no doubt they'd love to get involved in this side of the preparations. Again, you can also order these online too.

READ MORE: A guide for how to enjoy fall in France for homesick Americans

For more general (non-Thanksgiving specific) autumn-style decor, you could try out HEMA, which often has birthday banners, balloons and small string-lights.

Family Day

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in France so on the day itself you're likely to be working while the kids are in school. Some Americans in France go the whole hog and book a day's holiday, while others just celebrate Thanksgiving at the weekend - and some do both, taking the opportunity to have a double celebration with family and then with friends. 

For Americans who have children in France, Thanksgiving provides the perfect chance to introduce them to an American tradition.

"As a father it has become important. A way to show my son a bit of good old America," Jeff Steiner, who leads the group Americans in France, previously told The Local.

But if after reading this, you think going the whole hog and creating a traditional Thanksgiving in France is just too much effort, you could always keep the most important elements - gathering loved ones together for food and drink - and ditch the turkey.

"Just throw a dinner party and call it Thanksgiving," said Sarah Schmidt.  

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And remember - it's being surrounded by people you love that makes a successful Thanksgiving, not having the perfect pumpkin pie.

French vocab

Une dinde - a turkey

Les patates douces - sweet potatoes/yams

Une citrouille - a pumpkin

Les canneberges - cranberries

Le maïs - corn (the ï accent over the i means it is pronounced may-eese)

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Comments (7)

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Deb 2023/11/15 19:37
Costco has turkeys (raised in France) available now according to their website advertising. Unfortunately, there are only 2 locations in France, both in suburbs outside Paris. Well worth the excursion and membership fee, especially for families and group purchases. Bonus: After you spend €€€s on all the great stuff, you can get the same all beef extra-long hotdogs plus a drink for €1.50 as in the US.
Deb 2023/11/15 19:37
Costco has turkeys (raised in France) available now according to their website advertising. Unfortunately, there are only 2 locations in France, both in suburbs outside Paris. Well worth the excursion and membership fee, especially for families and group purchases. Bonus: After you spend €€€s on all the great stuff, you can get the same all beef extra-long hotdogs plus a drink for €1.50 as in the US.
Susan Sturman 2023/11/15 17:17
Our longstanding Paris tradition: Invite American friends who bring a dish from their own tradition. Our butcher roasts the bird, stuffed with my stuffing I've brought the day before. Once everyone has arrived we send a delegation to fetch the bird, which arrives triumphantly! Back in the '90s we had two couples who met at different Thanksgivings chez nous, who then married, we're all still good friends!
David 2023/11/15 16:19
In our village, turkeys are totally reserved for Christmas. You might have to drive closer to Lyon to find a butcher who has one. Fortunately we have gotten to know a local farmer. We ALWAYS order our turkey in JULY. I pick it up two days before our dinner.. They are the freshest most delicious turkeys we've ever had. Hint, the turkey was alive the day before I got it.
Anonymous 2022/11/21 06:28
Spelling: Une pintade (not pintande)
Anonymous 2022/11/06 14:26
Yams sometimes known as sweet potatoes? That’s backwards. Sweet potatoes are sometimes erroneously referred to as yams > https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yam_(vegetable) Also, canned pumpkin is more akin to butternut squash. Fresh butternut squash is readily available at our Saturday bio market on the Blvd des Batignolles and does make an excellent pie. Read more here > https://www.southernliving.com/food/veggies/squash/pumpkin/what-is-canned-pumpkin We often do a braised turkey parts recipe in lieu of a whole bird. It’s much easier to get turkey legs and breasts at the butcher if you’ve not planned ahead.
Anonymous 2019/11/21 10:41
I don’t live in Paris, I live in the Gard. It is far more difficult to find cranberries and can pumpkin here. But why not order the spices and buy a pumpkin? It is like a treasure hunt, to find all f the missing items one needs for a great Thanksgiving. The most important ingredient is the people! We will have a ball. Dinde and all!
  • Anonymous 2021/11/24 07:36
    We live in the Vaucluse, so the search for American-style ingredients is not easy. We discovered the website myamericanmarket.com which has both Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce (canned) as well as Libby's Canned Pumpkin. If you are cooking-challenged, as I am, they also carry StoveTop Stuffing! Ikea has a lingonberry jam, which is very good and we find the flavor is quite similar to the taste of cranberry sauce.

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