Planning a Local Thanksgiving: Guest Feature
The following is a guest blog post by Julia James, Radish & Rye.
And so, despite the long-lingering summer that kept us warm through most of October, it’s November.
This means that not only has Sara had her baby, but that it’s time to start thinking about Thanksgiving.
I’m a pretty food-centric person, so I suppose it makes sense that Thanksgiving is my favorite of all the winter holidays. I love sharing a big meal with loved ones any day of the year, but I particularly love doing so with an intention of gratitude.
I also love that because we are theoretically, or at least sort of replicating or emulating a historic feast that occurred around this time of year in a place not too far away, there is a very natural focus on foods that are seasonal and local for us here and now.
Sourcing your local ingredients
In our household it has become a point of pride to have an all-local Thanksgiving — that is, a feast made almost entirely from locally grown ingredients — but I have to confess that I’m not sure we should be so proud because the truth is it isn’t all that challenging.
Last year, we did a turkey from Village Acres Farm in Mifflintown. This year, we’ll get one from North Mountain Pastures in Newport.
Choices abound for side dishes, too. Last year, we had a pretty small table and didn’t want to go all out so we went fairly traditional with collard greens, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.
The ingredients for all of those dishes are very easy to get locally this time of year, either directly from your favorite farm at Farmers on the Square or the PA Open Air Farmers Market, or from Radish and Rye where we pull from a number of different local farms to get all in one place.
Setting a bigger table?
Other locally available in-season ingredients include a wide variety of squashes — butternut and acorn are the obvious ones — cabbage, sweet potatoes, pie pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabaga, onions, and the list goes on and on!
Customizing your plan
Often when I’m planning a meal, especially a locally focused meal, I’ll start by selecting the main ingredients and then seek out recipes.
When thinking about Thanksgiving, though, because the most traditional foods are what’s readily available locally, you might be able to get away with selecting the recipes first.
Again, much of this can be very easy. If you want to make sweet potatoes (and who doesn’t), they’ll be available just about anywhere locally grown produce is sold. The same is true for carrots, squash, and potatoes.
Of course, anything calling for asparagus isn’t going to work for a local feast this time of year, but the pilgrims weren’t enjoying asparagus at their Thanksgiving either.
If you want to venture a little further afield from the strictly traditional, you start taking on some risk that your ingredients won’t be available. It’s going to be difficult for a farmer to guarantee ahead of time that they’ll have fennel bulbs, cauliflower, broccoli, or Brussel sprouts the specific week of Thanksgiving, but it’s likely, barring a super hard frost early in the month, that at least some of these will be available.
To mitigate the risk of planning on something that it turns out I can’t get after all, what I like to do is plan my meal around the ingredients I know will be available — the sweet potatoes, squashes, etc. — but have some ideas for sides to make depending on what else I can find.
Once I know what’s available, I can decide whether I’ll be making a fennel salad or braised cabbage (or both!); whether it’ll be a celery or celeriac going into the stuffing; and whether the mashed potato substitute (for those who don’t do potatoes) will be whipped cauliflower or squash puree.
As long as the big pieces are known and well-planned, making last-minute adaptions based on what’s available can be easy and even fun!
We often think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but the truth is that harvest festivals are celebrated all over the world, giving thanks for the year’s bounty and for the stored crops that will carry the community through the winter.
For most of us, our survival is no longer directly tied to the success or failure of the local crops as it was 300 years ago, but whether or not we recognize it in our day-to-day lives, we are dependent on farmers for nearly everything we eat.
For me, choosing to make the Thanksgiving feast a local one acknowledges the role agriculture plays in our lives and communities and celebrates both the bounty of the harvest and the hard work of those who sustain us through their farms.
Eating locally reminds me that we live in communities of interdependence, bound to each other and to the earth in our successes and failures, in our joys and our struggles. It is humbling and uplifting — and for me, it is the very essence of Thanksgiving.
Meet Julia James
Purveyor, Radish & Rye Food Hub, Broad Street Market
Julia James has been a hobby locavore for years.
Since 2015, she and her husband, Dusty, have owned Radish & Rye Food Hub at the Broad Street Market, where they stock exclusively locally grown and produced foods, including organic produce, grass-fed meats and dairy, artisan bread, and much more.
When they’re not at the stand, Julia and Dusty are usually cooking, preferably while sipping on local beer or Spanish wine.