“How did this happen?” repeatedly being said by myself as well as Katie—the American volunteer that I cooked Thanksgiving dinner with. Thankfully it was being uttered after we enjoyed a delicious meal and not during the cooking. We had convinced the European volunteers that Thanksgiving needed to be celebrated so on November 25th we gathered together.
I had spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in a village and Wednesday evening was spent planning the meal and checking our supplies. Thanksgiving arrived as a very hot and humid late November day and the first item on the list was to kill the chicken that I had been given when I left the village. Thankfully Walisu was there to help and the bird was soon killed and defeathered. Next I went into Tamale to gather some last minute ingredients and after that it was off to Luuc’s house—a Dutch guy that lives in Tamale—to start the cooking.
The menu included a turkey—which cost 35cidis, a chicken costs like 5cidis—the rooster from the village, mash potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn, glazed carrots, green beans, apple sauce, and garlic bread. The plan was to grill the birds because the oven’s heat could not be controlled and everything else was to be cooked on a very small stove with only three working burners. Thankfully we had a very large bar so counter space was not an issue. First on the list was to prepare everything and with the help Sabrina a volunteer from Belgium and the day’s honorary American, potatoes and carrots were peeled and cut, bread was cubed for the stuffing and I started gutting the rooster. This was a very interesting task and took me about an hour to do. After this was all done we took a break to decorate. When the decorations were hung it looked more like a birthday party so we started drawing hand turkeys—this greatly helped the feel, although there were some very interesting takes on Turkeys by the Europeans.
Next up was to start heating up the charcoal and to prep the rooster which was to be the test run for the Turkey. The rooster was rubbed down in olive oil with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves and was wrapped in some foil and placed in the grill and about an hour and half later he was looking good. During this time we also started cooking the potatoes, which took some time and used up the stove as we had to do them in two giant pots.
Dinner was set for six and we placed the Turkey on the grill at about 3:30 with the same prep as the rooster. And from about 4 o’clock on it was kind of a blur. The potatoes were taken off and we started on the stuffing. Katie’s mom had sent over a box of Stove Top stuffing but this would not go far for 10 people who were promised a feast so we were making our own stuffing—Bread, chicken stock, sautéed onions and carrots, rosemary, garlic, and salt and pepper. This was the real big “How did it happen?” It turned out a bit soupier than normal stuffing but it tasted amazing and was most people’s favorite. Next up were the glazed carrots—butter and brown sugar. After that it was the green beans and the corn—we had to use canned corn because the sweet corn season was over; this was our one non-fresh ingredient—the turkey was killed on Wednesday. Up next was the garlic bread. Soon more hands were helping and it was really coming together, and then we remembered that we needed to make gravy. So franticly butter, flour, and the necks, livers, and hearts were thrown in a pot—I forgot salt and pepper but Katie saved me on that and a considerable amount of wine also made it into the gravy as at this point in the cooking it was kind of just take a drink, throw an ingredient in and then pour a little wine into it as well.
I obviously have no experience making a Thanksgiving dinner—or butchering a chicken—and Katie didn’t have much more but we pulled it off in a developing tropical country. This was greatly helped by constant telephone contact with my mother who was travelling with her cookbook just for good measure and gave me advice on everything from; well really just everything—the gravy and stuffing were only based on her saying “do you have this?” and “throw a little of that in.” We were a little limited on ingredients—mainly using salt, pepper, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic, and butter—we went through over two pounds of butter.
The table was set and right on time we sat down to eat with looks of “How did this happen?” on the American’s faces and looks of satisfaction on the European’s. There was enough for seconds and by the end in true American fashion everybody was too tired to move and just pushed back from the table. During this time we also made some dessert, earlier in the week an apple crisp was defeated by the uncontrollable oven so it was ice cream, banana’s and chocolate sauce along with a shortbread cookie—whose recipe was obtained on a phone call home.
So a couple of young Americans pulled off a Thanksgiving to remember in Ghana for a now converted group of Europeans. I don’t think I can describe my disbelief at what happened, I mean I have never ever done that amount of cooking; it just somehow came together and worked. Plus there were a few left over potatoes so while we could not to two days of turkey sandwiches we were able to enjoy some late night mashed potatoes and corn.
This week it is off to another village and I will update you on the going ons in Wovogou.
Exhaustion and a cut finger.