Thanksgiving is such a confusing holiday! It’s simultaneously cozy and delicious and so hypocritical. There’s the historical injustice to consider and then there’s the factory farmed Butterball: monstrous animals so over-engineered they can’t even mate on their own. And yet, is there a better feast than the Thanksgiving shmorgasborg of autumnal abundance? Is there a meat more savory and delicious then a pasture-raised, heritage breed turkey roasted to perfection? Here in the MidAtlantic we can grow most of the components of a Thanksgiving feast right in our yards, and the holiday really gives us an opportunity to enjoy the bounty of our harvest! Here are some farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas you can try this season.
This year we planted sweet potatoes in raised beds and they went nuts! Some tubers were big as my arm. Sweet potatoes, like winter squash, can be harvested, cured and held in a root cellar until their starring role in the big meal. If your sweet potatoes are visually perfect you will most likely candy roast them in chunks, but if the bugs have been nibbling them, never fear, just trim the ugly spots, boil the rest and make a mashed sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pears (or marshmallows but you didn’t hear that part from me).
Hearty fall greens like kale and collards are still growing despite the mild frosts we have had so far. Those greens start getting sweeter and sweeter as the frost brings out the sugars. They are fantastic sautéed in olive oil and served with fried shallots and pumpkin seeds on top for a healthy side dish even the vegans will love.
Some other great farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas: apples and pears have been ripening over the past few weeks and bring a wonderful crunch to any dish. Consider a ultra-local Thanksgiving salad incorporating arugula, red meat radish, honey crisp apple and purple onion. Don’t forget a rice pilaf with wild rice, baby carrots, onions and thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms from the logs for another hearty side dish. I like to season mine with cinnamon, nutmeg and chicken broth.
Want to really confuse your cousin? Slice up a kolrabi, drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt for an appetizer none of your relatives will recognize.
Another exciting, garden-to-gourmet Thanksgiving dish features mini-pumpkins. I had always thought of those little 4 inch pumpkins as ornamental; turns out they’re delicious! Scoop out the seeds and bake them with sage leaf, butter and a sliver of garlic, or consider stuffing them with other creative fillings like minced lamb or even cheesecake.
My thanksgiving tradition is to go up to one of my farm mentor’s farms and help slaughter turkeys for a day in return for the bird of my choice. Homer raises his birds on pasture and they peck on the freshest grass and bugs until their big day. Possibly an odd choice for a lapsed passionate vegetarian, but that way I get to avoid the quandary of how ethical/economical I want to be regarding the turkey I purchase.
While today supermarkets give away free turkeys as a marketing gimmick, our ancestors’ harvests were dictated by the weather, luck and hard work. These farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas take us back to the very roots of the holiday. Growing food and learning about what it takes to get an abundant harvest helps me feel connected to those that came before me; a universal and yet ultra-local birthright that connects us to the seasons, the earth and to ourselves.