November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving, locally authentic

When asked why a gardener gardens, the reply might include something along the lines of a yearning or search for authenticity. The optimism, which makes a gardener believe in the possibility of absolute abundance of the next growing season, also informs an approach to food.

Not everyone grows to eat but everyone eats. This week of celebration and ritual will find our entire nation ruminating over the meal to end all meals! Will the _______ (you fill in the blank) be baked, roasted, steamed or whipped? Will Aunt Carol make her orange-flavored cranberry sauce? Are all! the cousins coming?

Ritual slows time and heightens our senses. We harbor an unquenchable belief in the possibility of unprecedented experience. This belief is most strongly played out when family and friends sit down to a home-prepared Thanksgiving meal.

What if that long anticipated meal didn’t include a southern-raised turkey shot up with fake butter, frozen pumpkin pie from a Midwest food factory, and mashies from a box but, instead, a mouth watering meal prepared from ingredients raised, foraged, and grown within a 100 mile radius of our own home? A 100 Mile Meal, as it has come to be known!

A Madison County farmer listed ingredients for a 100 Mile Thanksgiving meal gathered within our region. Bake a fresh, never-frozen Hutterite turkey stuffed with Montana-grown whole wheat bread dressing savory with locally foraged sage. Replace cranberry sauce with tangy red currant sauce. Here, I would have to cast my line further a field, compromising to include slices of dried orange and Meyer lemons in the sauce, possibly adding nuts for taste and texture.

And, freshly dug creamy white russet potatoes flavored with a turnip and garlic chives would fill the mashies bowl. Sweet potatoes were especially robust and abundant this year in local gardens. Sweeten with locally produced honey and bake. Of course, winter squash such as acorn and butternut abound. Green beans, a traditional mainstay, are out of season now. Another green offering might include a salad of kale, broccoli, golden beets, and chard drizzled with homemade apple vinegar and canola oil.

Fresh pumpkin pie, of course! And, home-raised cream and butter from a small dairy herd near Pony. Spices for this lovely supper would have to come from outside the 100-mile radius. But we are fortunate to be able to buy salt mined in Utah, not that far away.

The 2007 winner for the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year award is “locavore”. Not surprising considering the media attention given to the importance of buying locally. The word brings together eating and ecology in a new way. A deeper understanding of the need to preserve foodlands and support local small-scale growers and producers is implied and illuminated.

Today we gardeners and cooks need a legion of grandmas to guide us back to a time when families grew their own and cooked it fresh from the land. But, short of that ideal, we can certainly explore our region for the best locally grown food thus supporting a local economy and reducing food miles traveled.

Can each of us answer this question: who’s your farmer? To all locavores out there: have an unprecedented and delicious Thanksgiving, authentically local!

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