This year I organized celebrations of Thanksgiving across Moldova, making sure that every volunteer in country would have somewhere to go to celebrate the holiday with fellow volunteers, if they so choose. Most volunteers that were hosting Thanksgivings choose to have them on Saturday following Thanksgiving, so that volunteers could travel to arrive without missing work. (Just because it’s an American holiday doesn’t mean you can take off for it here.)
My Thanksgiving day (Thursday of the official holiday) was spent going to find, buying, killing, cleaning and beginning to brine two Turkeys for our dinner Saturday. It was also spent planning and purchasing other ingredients for the dinner Saturday. This was the first Thanksgiving dinner I have planned, and made (although I have become an expert in Pumpkin Baked Goods while in Moldova).
Overall the two most difficult parts of this meal to procure were the Turkeys and the Sweet Potatoes. Two of our good friends here went to Iasi, Romania, a two hour drive away to buy the sweet potatoes, since they are not available for sale in Moldova.
To get turkeys, I started asking around to everyone I knew weeks before Thanksgiving. I also went to the AgroPiata (Animal Market) and asked around there. When the AgroPiata did not turn up any leads, I went with the second choice option, traveling to the house of a friend’s father’s cousin, in Ungeni raion, about an hour from where I live, to buy the birds there. We agreed to the price on the phone, 60 lei a kilo, 30 lei per kilo cheaper than the birds in Balti and we set off early that morning. Luckily, my friend Tania agreed to drive, because if we had to take public transportation with the birds, that would have been horrible.
When we arrived they herded the Turkeys back into their shanty compound of animal shelters and asked me which ones I wanted. Never having seen a live Turkey before, I left the decision to them. They sold me one female and one male, and offered to help in the killing and defeathering. I thought going into this that I would have no problem killing a Turkey, but even holding it, not doing the actual killing, was surprisingly difficult.
After we had them defeather – which is done by pouring hot water over the body of the dead and be-headed birds, and then pulling the feathers out – we took them back to Tania’s house to gut them. First we made sure there were no small hairs on the birds by slightly singing the skin on the flame of the gas stove, then we cut out the anus, and gutted them through this hole and the neck cavity. This was not difficult, and really just want to make sure not to rupture the intestines or stomach while you’re doing this as it will make a mess.
Then we rinsed the birds and I brought them back home to brine them in a saturated salt and sugar solution for 24 hours. When the 24 hours finished, we rinsed them and then began to marinate them, for another 16 hours before cooking them.
I learned a lot from this expierence – to always purchase females, who have more body fat and meat on them, to always insist that they seperate and dont allow the birds to eat for 24 hours before killing (makes the weight better for the purchaser and the stomach easier to pull out), to make sure to drain the blood back into the meat (by hanging the bird after killing) to make the meat juicier, how to stuff a bird, how to flavor a bird, how to cook a bird – but the greatest thing I learned was that I was not in fact comfortable killing an animal – had I been there alone, it would have been a Turkey-less Thanksgiving here.
The dinner went off very well, we had lots of traditional dishes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pies, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, gravy, two delicious turkeys and more – and it was nice to spend with friends, but honestly after all the work, I’m just glad its done.
I will be extremely grateful, when I return, for how easy it is to make things in the US. For how available spices are. For how sections of the store organized with Thanksgiving materials. For Pumpkin that comes in cans. For sweet potatoes and cranberries in every grocery store. For fresh, affordable, pre-killed Turkeys.
And of course since this post is about Thanksgiving, it wouldn’t be complete without taking a moment to mention a few things I am thankful for – my friends near and far, especially for Tania, Adam and Paden – without whose help Thanksgiving would NEVER have come together. For the experience of Moldova, for all the things I have learned here and all the amazing people who have come into my life here. And of course for my Family with whom I am very excited to hopefully be spending next Thanksgiving.