“Mother! Mother! Guess what!” Ellen shouted breathlessly as she opened the back door. “Our class is having an international Thanksgiving dinner, and our teacher said we should each bring a special food from a different country.”
“That sounds interesting,” Mother said, drying her hands on a towel. “But I thought Thanksgiving was just an American holiday.”
“Well, on the fourth Thursday of November we all say thanks as the Pilgrims did for our homes, families, food, country, and freedom. But Mrs. Swen told us that people around the world have special times for saying thanks too, and we’re going to combine the holidays of everyone.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Mother said. “What is everyone taking, Ellen?”
“Mrs. Swen’s family is from Sweden, so she is bringing fattigmand. She said it is a cookie made in different sizes and shapes and then deep fried.”
“Ann’s grandmother is from Poland, where they have goose on holidays. I’ve never tasted goose before,” Ellen explained. “Jacque is bringing truffles from France, Ramon is bringing fried beans from Mexico, and Huhta is bringing a rice dish from Ceylon.”
“Well, that certainly sounds like an international Thanksgiving, all right. But what would you like to take?” Mother asked.
“I told Mrs. Swen I wanted to bring the braided bread you and Grandmother always make for Thanksgiving.”
“Oh, you mean houska,” Mother smiled. “Grandmother has often told us that houska was a special treat for her when she was a little girl in Czechoslovakia. Tomorrow we can make it together so it will be fresh for your party.”
Ellen rushed home after school the next day.
“Go wash your hands, Ellen, and we’ll get started,” Mother said almost as soon as Ellen opened the door.
“First we’ll heat some milk until a light film forms on top,” Mother explained.
“Then we need to add the yeast, eggs, sugar, flour, salt, raisins, nuts, and butter and mix them all together.”
“This is fun,” Ellen said when the golden dough was ready to be put on the floured board.
“Now we must knead the dough until it’s very smooth,” Mother directed.
“It’s just like clay,” Ellen said, pushing the dough back and forth on the board until her fingers were white with flour.
“But clay doesn’t taste as good as houska,” Mother laughed.
When the dough was as smooth as a pillow, Mother showed Ellen how to divide it for braiding.
Ellen watched carefully as her mother rolled out three long sections like a rope. Then she braided them exactly the same way Ellen had seen her grandmother braid rugs.
“That’s how Mary Ann wears her hair,” Ellen said as she watched her mother’s fingers fly.
“This is just a three-strand braid,” Mother said. “Sometimes four or five strands are used.”
“Can I try?” Ellen asked doubtfully.
“It’s really not as hard as it looks, Ellen,” Mother said as she stepped aside so Ellen could work. “It just takes a little practice.”
Ellen tried very hard to keep the long strands even. Finally she tucked the ends under as she had seen her mother do, and asked, “There, is that a good braid?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” Mother replied.
“Braiding dough is really fun,” Ellen said, delighted with her work.
“The dough will need to rise in the pan until it’s fat and puffy,” Mother said.
When the dough was ready to bake, Mother broke an egg in a dish and mixed it quickly with a fork. With a brush she painted the egg on top of the braids.
Ellen was tingly with excitement as she waited for the bread to bake.
“Look how shiny the egg made the bread,” she exclaimed as she watched her mother take the bread out of the oven.
The next day Ellen walked happily to school carrying her freshly baked houska. She could hardly wait for lunchtime to come.
Finally Mrs. Swen told the children to stand up and show the class what they had brought.
When the children saw Ellen’s braid, they all tried to guess how it was made.
“I’ll bet it had to be baked in a special pan,” Chris said.
“It comes from a special store,” Mary Ann guessed.
Ellen smiled and shook her head as different friends made their suggestions.
Finally Mrs. Swen said, “None of us can guess, Ellen, so you’ll have to tell us about it. It looks beautiful.”
Ellen was glad to tell how she and her mother had made the bread and the fun she had learning to braid dough.
As the children ate the different foods from around the world, Mrs. Swen printed the name of each food and the country it came from on the blackboard.
Some of the names were hard to say. Everyone had trouble trying to pronounce houska, but no one had any trouble eating it!
“We all decided that an around-the-world Thanksgiving is just great,” Ellen told her mother when she came home from school that afternoon. “And, after all,” she added, “I guess everyone in the whole world has something special to be thankful for every day.”