Easier Than Ever to Eat Local for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving turkeyThe evening skies got darker last Sunday and the weather in these parts took a turn for the raw, so there’s no denying winter is just around the corner.

Which, mostly depresses me, but I can stay positive for the next few months as my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, arrives and is quickly followed by the busy-ness and beauty of the Christmas season.

If summer is the heyday for local food lovers, the harvest season is a close second. Yes, the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants are gone but pumpkins and pork and fresh greens and pears and carrots and sweet potatoes and onions and … I’ll stop. There is plenty. And it’s all so good.

I have written before about how fortunate my neighbors and I are to perch in a place where so much of the traditional Thanksgiving meal can be acquired so close to home. But wherever you live, I want to encourage you to do a little digging and find out if your turkey, your squash, your apples, your potatoes might be purchased from a nearby grower. And if not, I want to inspire you to riff a little, substitute those green beans that you just can’t get locally for some broccoli that maybe you can. Perhaps you’re in a corner of the country where strawberries are local year ’round, so ditch the cranberries and make a strawberry balsamic sauce instead. Yes, updating a tried and true meal can take a smidge more effort, but molding your menu to the place where you call home is also tastier, more interesting, more meaningful, more connected. Isn’t it?

When I think about what I want to do most in this space, it’s to open the door a little, to ask you to consider what your table might look like if it offered up just a few more homemade dishes, just a couple more local ingredients. It can be hard to make wholesale change. Baby steps are better.

What local foodies have going for us, is that the world is bending in our direction. In my neck of the woods, it’s easier than ever to buy local. The Grandin Village Farmers Market extended its season into November for the first time and is offering monthly indoor Saturday markets throughout the winter. The Roanoke Co-op now sells meat from Polyface Farms, including pasture-raised turkeys for Thanksgiving. And Earth Fare, a new health-focused grocery store with many local vendors like Homestead Creamery, Red Rooster Coffee Company and Roanoke Bagel, has just opened its doors. (If you’ve been wondering where Roanoke Bagel’s been, they shuttered their shop in the summer but have kept on baking wholesale; you can call in orders and pick up at designated spots or now just get your fill at Earth Fare).

Thanksgiving apple pie

I imagine it’s the same wherever you call home. Consumers are demanding healthier, locally grown food. And sellers will keep offering more local options if we take advantage of the inroads that are growing.

So what does a locally focused menu look like? Of course, that depends on where you are. From where I’m sitting in Southwest Virginia, I’d put together a table like this: A spatchcocked chicken, potato pancakes, stuffed acorn squash, arugula radish salad, apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake. Or you could really shake things up with curried parsnip and apple soup and pumpkin cornbread muffins, sausage and apple stuffing bites, kale chips, stir-fried broccoli, with a grand finale of chocolate cake and pumpkin pie.

A word about the bird. Whenever I’ve hosted Thanksgiving, I’ve made sure to seek out a pasture-raised turkey. But after writing this SWVA Living story about heritage poultry, I’m feeling more committed than ever to support the growing of heritage breeds (think: the bird equivalent of heirloom tomatoes). Can’t find a heritage turkey grower near you? What if you shifted to serve a heritage chicken as the center of your meal, instead?

In spirit of the first Thanksgiving (where, let’s face it, those pilgrims had to let all kinds of holiday traditions go in order to eat at all), let’s plan to celebrate our local bounty — even if it’s an extra step or two.

Happy Thanksgiving!