When key ingredients were unobtainable a worthy substitution would be found

As a festive occasion, the fourth Thursday of November remains a favorite holiday. We each have our special Thanksgiving memories and mine flow in abundance, but the most gleeful of these reach back to England in the early 1980s. No one observes tradition as intensely as an expatriate and I held a Thanksgiving gathering on the fourth Friday of November (to accommodate those unaccustomed to having the day off) for the six years I lived in London.

Using New England recipes from an old church cookbook for the puddings and pies (except that brandy was added to everything) preparation began on Wednesday. When key ingredients were unobtainable a worthy substitution would be found. For instance, West Indian pumpkin was used for the pie.  Or I’d start from scratch, grinding my own “maize” into meal, using a coffee grinder, for the Indian Pudding and corn bread.  Or I’d concoct something new, as with my “signature” oyster/chestnut/pita stuffing.

Then I’d look to Harrods’ great Food Hall for the finest turkey that would fit the dimensions of my meager oven, and even more meager budget … and set to work.

The other essential ingredient was wine of course and my guests would bring “buckets” of it, invariably of dubious vintage (as if it mattered). Carving commenced promptly at 19:00 and after dessert we’d crank the stereo and slowly get up to dance.

The gathering grew more popular with every year and by the sixth go-round, with attendance approaching that of a wedding reception, I was no longer able to manage all my own cooking and some of the charm, alas, was lost. The “middle years” had the best celebrations with guests in the mere dozens and my culinary skills at their humble peak.

Some who read this may especially recall a particular soiree at my girlfriend’s large Battersea flat. The autumn moon was nearly full, and we ate – and we drank – and we danced – and we drank – and we laughed … a lot, late, late into that clear Albion night. As some of us were going through an early jazz phase that’s what dominated the play list, including this lively number. I give thanks for the recollection.

Born in New Orleans in 1885, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, aka Jelly Roll Morton, was a pivotal pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger. His “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first jazz composition to be published, in 1915, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential spirit, even when notated.

With laughter provided by comedian “Laughing” Lew Lamar, who specialized in animal noises and provided the goat sound for Jelly’s “Billy Goat Stomp” in the same session, “The Hyena Stomp” was recorded with the Red Hot Peppers on the 4th of July 1927. What better way to wish you and yours a most JOVIAL Thanksgiving?

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