Travel: So far from my mother's pecan pie

Thursday is Thanksgiving, one of the biggest holidays in the United States. Anne Lundregan, an American who lives in London, looks at ways to celebrate in Britain.
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The Independent Culture
The relief in my mother's voice was almost palpable. "I didn't like the thought of you spending Thanksgiving alone," she said, after hearing I would be spending the night at my cousin's house.

It will be the first time I haven't been at home in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. I threatened to boycott it once while at university, because I had so much work. That didn't last for long. One couldn't miss one of the biggest family holidays celebrated in America, or so my mother adamantly insisted. But even with two invitations to Thanksgiving festivities here in Britain, I long to see pumpkins sitting on people's doorsteps and cardboard turkeys hanging on doors. And I will think longingly of my mother's pecan pie.

How does one celebrate a uniquely American holiday in Britain? Although American soft drinks are drunk worldwide and its movies and television shows have filtered into almost every culture, Thanksgiving, it seems, is unexportable. Perhaps this lies in the roots of the holiday, which celebrates the beginning of America as it is now.

The holiday harks back to the Pilgrim Fathers' first harvest, when they held a feast to give thanks. In school, we were told they gave thanks not only for their first crop, but also for having survived the first year in their new home. It lasted for three days and native Americans from the surrounding areas arrived bringing deer and other food. It is likely that they ate turkey (roasted but not stuffed) and pumpkin.

More than 300 years later, turkey with stuffing is a staple item. But a host of other foods are traditionally eaten because the holiday is as much about eating as it is about the first settlers. A traditional dinner usually includes sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, and cranberry sauce. For desert there's pecan pie, mince pie and pumpkin pie (a traditional Thanksgiving dish since the 17th century).

But the 240,000 or so Americans living in the UK and those visiting may find that celebrating Thanksgiving here is no easy feat. Even the American Museum just outside Bath remains closed on Thursday (during their winter season they are not open on weekdays). They are, however, open at weekends, and this weekend their 17th-century keeping-room is decorated for the holiday.

Some American hotels and restaurants are serving the traditional trimmings. Some quite definitely aren't.Manhattan clam chowder, smothered crayfish and shrimp, lobster bisque, black bean soup - these were, variously, quoted to me as being on special Thanksgiving menus. Fine, you might well eat any of these dishes in America, but none of them is exactly Thanksgiving food.

Most of all, though, it's hard to get used to the thought of eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal at night. In the States, most families usually sit down around the table at about 3pm. Most Americans abroad therefore find it easier to celebrate it on Saturday. That's what I'll be doing this Saturday, but at the risk of sounding childish, I have to say it's just not the same.

Thanksgiving celebrations tomorrow: Marriott, Grosvenor Square, London W1 (0171-493 1232) will be holding two sittings at 5.30pm-8.30pm. Price pounds 37.50, half price for children under 12. Claridges, Brook Street, London W1 (0171-629 8860) will be serving Thanksgiving meals from 12.30pm to 2.30pm (pounds 29) and 7.30pm (pounds 42.50 for three courses, pounds 47.50 for four). Joe Allen's, 13 Exeter Street, London WC2 (0171-836 0651), has a five-course Thanksgiving meal for pounds 27.50. Texas Cantina, 1 Cockspur Street, London SW1 (0171-925 0077) offers a spicy range of dishes including black bean soup, mesquite grilled turkey and jalapeno cranberry sauce. About pounds 16 a head.