Thinking Thanksgiving II: Cycles

If you want to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner wholly from scratch, you start ahead of time. If you want to make it from food you've raised yourself, you start way, way ahead of time - like in January of the year before. In some ways, it starts even earlier, but January is the new year - and when you grow your own, you are always thinking of the future - even if not consciously about any particular dinner.

It is in January that we order seeds for the vegetables we'd serve at Thanksgiving, that we debate which varieties of pumpkin and carrots, celery root, sweet corn, squash and leeks we'll need.

We are thinking Thanksgiving, faintly, distantly, in February, when we order turkey poults, or begin watching the turkey hens for signs of setting her eggs, and when we place the order for seed potatoes, or begin organizing last year's potatoes for replanting. In February the first leek and onion greens have sprouted, and in some abstract sense we know these will appear again, on our tables in autumn.

We are thinking vaguely of Thanksgiving in March, when I set sweet potatoes in water on the window to develop slips for next year. And in April when we finally go out on the first warm day and plant potatoes. We are certainly thinking Thanksgiving as the turkey poults hatch or arrive, and as I pull the mulch from my sage and thyme plants.

We are thinking Thanksgiving in May, when I carefully start "winter luxury" pie pumpkins in newspaper cups filled with soil, to ensure a healthy supply of pumpkin pie, and when we watch the apple blossoms anxiously on cold nights, to track our future apple pies.

In June, when we hoe the corn, we recall that we will want this corn, creamed at the groaning board in November. In July, on hot nights, when the dream of roast turkey seems unappealing, we are still, in some measure, aware of Thanksgiving at the back of our minds as we go out to pick slugs off the squash vines, and pull the garlic that we will use to flavor the potatoes.

In August, we know that summer is winding down, and it is in small part Thanksgiving that we are driving towards as the turkeys range around the yard chasing bugs and we are putting up raspberry pie filling and pickled peaches. We dry the sweet corn, after we devour our fill, thinking, again, of days to come.

In September, as the first breath of cool air floats through the barnyard, we're thinking Thanksgiving as we dig potatoes and watch for frost, hoping for a few more nights to ripen the pumpkins to rich netted orange, a little more sizing up for the Hubbard Squash, already huge and warty and green.

In October, as the day approaches and the turkeys reach maturity, Thanksgiving appears from the back of our minds and occasionally touches the fronts. When will the turkeys be ready for butchering? When can the ones we've sold be picked up, and do we have enough freezer space? We pull a parsnip from the ground and taste its frost-sweetened flavor in anticipation.

November, of course, is the culmination of our efforts - we mash and roast and sauce and sautee. The turkey gets the most attention, but Thanksgiving is the feast of roots, the only time we, as a nation, all fully celebrate those under-loved vegetables that come up from the ground. It is the only meal many Americans actually cook for themselves, and sit down with family for. At our house, we have done most of the long anticipatory work, and we rest on our laurels - at least until it is time to cook.

What are you eating this week?


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It's funny. Before I started homesteading, the timing of Thanksgiving, as a harvest celebration, puzzled me. Surely all the harvest work, all the agricultural work, was done long before late November. Or so I thought. Now I see that we just barely have time to finish up the outdoor work and food preservation before the pressures of preparing to celebrate are upon us.

For our high holy day we'll be eating our own leeks, savoy cabbage, herbs and apples and home canned stock and home baked bread in the stuffing. Local onions in various dishes. The turkey was pasture raised by a friend, supplementally fed on locally grown grain. And family is bringing the rest of the vegetable dishes and desserts. I think one of the pies will be from my aunt's raspberry canes. Not an altogether homegrown or even local meal, but I work on the extended family year by year.

Pumpkin pie from local pumpkin, some onions out of the garden, carrots and parsnips from my garden, local sweet potatoes, and local sweet corn canned this summer. Mmmmm...

It was fun to look over the menu and know that if we had to, there would be no need to go to a grocery store! We're feasting on the abundant fall veggies in a variety of forms. Roots such as purple potatoes, rutabagas and beets will take front stage after we roast these and share a fondue pot of cheese for dipping. Pumpkins and apples for pie. Summer fruit preserved as jams for our local grains bread.

Our sauerkraut will be ready to scoop out of the crock for a meal and brussel sprouts fermenting in wine should be an interesting side. Pickles! Oh the pickles! We had to obtain a new pantry cupboard to store them all this year. We'll have a platter of pickles! Spicy dills, regular dills, bread and butter, mustard pickles, zucchini pickles, beet pickles, dilled green beans.

mmmmmm. I can't wait!

Garlic - drat - got to plant the garlic...

We served a bunch of our friends a squash soup the DH made with our own squash and our own basil, and they loved it - practicaly licked the pan clean. Our jalapeno jelly came out lovely, and the DH reports that the pickled jalapenos are wicked hot. (The salsa wound up containing somewhat more jalapeno and onion by weight, relative to tomato, than the recipe called for, so I'm kind of nervous that it might give us botulism, but the hubby thinks I'm being silly; can anyone reassure me?)

What I am mostly doing this week is going nuts at folks who have no sense of urgency about expediting the paperwork to let us grow the food for next year. This is what I call meal planning!
Every time they delay I explain, well, we need to be planting xxxx now, so that it will be ready next summer so we can eat it *next winter*, and delays now cut into our food supply then.
I think it is just such a long way from "normal" which I think means something like "What do I want to eat tonight? Oh I think I'll pop into [supermarket] while I am driving home and get a box of indian." I think they live in the future that never was.

The Thanksgiving meal proper will be prepared and served by my BIL and his girlfriend. Standard grocery store fare, turkey etc. That's where they are and what they do. We'll bring some home-grown green onions to the feast as we were charged with bringing the olives, pickles, and other relish tray items. The rest of the week, at home, my DH and I will be eating homegrown bok choy, potatoes harvested in July and successfully stored since then (just moved into the so-called root cellar, the underground entrance to our basement, finally cold enough for storage), and other fresh and stored garden produce. Plus fill-ins from the grocery store and stored bulk grains and flour. About the best we can do at this point.

My goal this year was to provide for our Thanksgiving feast out of our suburban raised-bed garden. I'm pleased to say preparations are going very well, despite some unseasonable cold and snow in this part of the world (we're in the Seattle area, where 2 inches of snow causes TV stations to postpone all programming in order to dedicate the day to the blizzard). Our idea was "What if the Pilgrims had landed on the West Coast?" so we are skipping Turkey and featuring the meats that local native people subsisted on, plus produce grown in the garden.

Our menu, all produce from the garden:
Creamy Sunchoke Soup
Roasted Beets with Arugula and Blue Cheese
Rutabaga Fritters
Zucchini Fritters
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Roasted Parsnips, Carrots, and Squash
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Swiss Chard Gratin
Loin of Elk
Herb Smoked Wild King Salmon

We'll also have assorted pickled things..beans, green tomatoes, etc. My sister is bringing local oysters, farmed a few miles from her home, and my mom is making blueberry crisp with fruit from my uncle's bushes. I will admit that our planned dessert cheese platter will feature some decidedly non-local (ie., European) selections to accompany locally grown pears and apples. But on the whole we are quite proud of how much of the meal is the direct result of our planning and labor. Our little backyard plot is a tremendous source of pride and reassurance to us this year as we prepare to host our loved ones in a true harvest feast.

Alas, I'm not nearly as self-sufficient as so many around here. With the exceptions noted below - everything is from the supermarket...

However, we do have chestnuts to roast this year (even though only my MIL and I eat them) and the blue pumpkin was from a local farm (according to the supermarket). Lastly, if I can find the time this evening, I will try to see if there are any jerusalem artichoke tubers where I planted them years ago - the patch is partly shaded and the woods is encroaching on it. If there's enough to eat and plant next year - we will see what jerusalem artichokes taste like!

By Eric Smith (not verified) on 24 Nov 2010 #permalink

Erica - you probably already know this, but you can get really good local cheeses at the U District farmers market. That said, my husband tends to buy European cheeses now and then too . . .

We are lucky enough to be guests for the Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-laws. We tried growing sweet potatoes for the first time this year, and had great success. So we brought the Cajun sweet potatoes that are always a hit. The rest was standard fare, and still delicious.