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Good luck finding a turkey and trimmings

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Helena Bachmann, Special to USA TODAY
Published 1:47 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017 | Updated 2:24 p.m. ET Nov. 16, 2017

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GENEVA — For many Americans living in Europe, pulling together a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings requires much more than patiently watching the timer on the oven. 

First, there’s the bird. In much of Europe whole turkeys are only available for Christmas. One exception: the United Kingdom, where they are widely available online year-round from major supermarket chains.

The other typical foods for the uniquely American holiday also are hard to come by — particularly ingredients for pumpkin pie and yam soufflé.  

To top it off, Thursday is a regular workday here.  

In an international city like Geneva, frozen turkeys can be found in some supermarkets, but are generally smaller and more expensive than their U.S. counterparts. A 7-lb. bird costs the equivalent of $30. In the United States a turkey twice the size costs about $20. 

That’s why some expats rely on family connections and social networks to get a fresh, reasonably-priced turkey.

Dorothy van Schooneveld and her friends turn to a French wife of an American expat, whose cousin has a chicken farm in the Bresse region of France. The cousin’s friend raises turkeys. “So we were able, via a roundabout way, to obtain a turkey for Thanksgiving,” said van Schooneveld, who lives in Amancy, France. 

And rather than costing a lot of money, this particular bird was paid for “with some bottles of wine produced by another cousin,” the Troy, N.Y., native added. 

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Meanwhile, Jeanne Matthey is on a hunt for an organic pumpkin puree in Budapest, Hungary, so she can bake a pie for Thanksgiving but time is running out. 

Last year, the Chicago native scooped, boiled and blended two pumpkins. It “was a laborious process that I don’t want to go through again,” she said.

A lot depends on where expats live. While cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkins (though not ready-made pumpkin pies) are available in most European cities, in some places they may be scarce. Last year, Matthey could not find any yams, so she improvised by “mashing together regular potatoes, carrots and bits of pumpkin, and adding sugar.”

“It wasn’t as good as the real thing, but you have to be creative,” she said.

To compound Matthey’s problems, she was told that the turkey she had ordered at a local farm was eaten by a fox that night. The farmer offered her a rooster. But she said no and her family carved a chicken instead.

Acquiring a turkey is just part of the challenge. A common problem with large birds is that European ovens are too small to accommodate anything bigger than a standard chicken. This was a lesson Jo Bartley learned the hard way, soon after she arrived in Amsterdam and had a 15-lb. bird delivered to her apartment.

“I didn’t realize the ovens in the Netherlands are no bigger than my daughter’s toy one. I had to cut my turkey into several pieces so I could bake it,” she said.

When she took the decimated turkey out of the oven, “I could cry. This wasn’t the Thanksgiving I wanted to have,” added Bartley, who is originally from Baltimore.

More seasoned expatriates like Jeff Steiner have learned to handle such limitations. Steiner, who has been living in La Roche sur Foron, France, for 18 years, doesn’t attempt to cram large birds into a typical French oven. His turkeys “are only about 10 pounds each. Maybe less,” the Los Angeles native said. 

Given all the challenges of preparing a traditional U.S.-style Thanksgiving abroad, many expats say cooking is for the birds. Those in cities with large expat populations opt for dining out for the holiday — a good way to get the turkey and all the trimmings without the hassle of shopping.  

 

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