By Amy Maltzan
Two years ago I hosted my first ever thanksgiving dinner. Besides the usual full hearts and bellies, I hoped my guests would also enjoy one of the things I love most about living in the Finger Lakes: all of our fantastic local food producers. Towards that end, I planned a menu to feature as many locally-sourced ingredients as I could. Here’s how it went and some notes on how to plan for your own all-local Thanksgiving.
Local cheese plate with bread and pears, paired with local wine and hard cider
Organic turkey from McDonald Farm, slathered with local butter and lots of herbs
Bread Stuffing with Apples, Bacon and Caramelized Onions
Marbleized Root Vegetable Puree
Winter Squash and Apple Bake
Braised Swiss Chard with Cranberries, Nuts & Lively Run Goat Feta
Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Bacon
Pumpkin Creme Brulee
1-2 months before: reserve the turkey.
For the centerpiece of our meal, I wanted to serve a turkey that had lived a good life, humanely raised on a small, local family farm. (Many commercial turkeys have been bred to be so breast-heavy that the male turkey physically can’t “do the deed;” I wanted a turkey that would have lived his life as naturally as possible). I placed my turkey reservation at McDonald Farm in Romulus because they’re at my market every week and I could pick it up without having to drive to the farm. Check at your local farmers’ market for who offers fresh turkeys and make sure to know how large a turkey you want.
One week before: round up the vegetables and write out the cooking schedule.
Root vegetables abound at the farmer’s markets in November, so I topped off my stock of carrots, potatoes, onions, and winter squash. I squeezed bundles of leafy greens like Swiss chard and a few stalks of brussels sprouts into my basket (bonus: the long stalks studded with sprouts make great conversation pieces if you enlist guests in prep!).
I also sat down and wrote out the entire menu, along with when each dish would be prepped, assembled, and cooked. Planning this out ahead of time helped me ensure there were no last-minute scrambles to get dishes in the oven.
Two days before: bring home the bird.
Because of the warmer fall we had that year, the turkeys Peter McDonald brought for his customers had grown like gangbusters up until their slaughter just a day or two before, and they were big birds, in the 21-25 pound range. I hefted my bird into my arms and literally waddled (I was eight months pregnant at the time) back to my car, happy in thought that we’d have lots of leftovers.
One day before: prep and assemble.
A few family members arrived the day before the event, and lucky for me, they were willing to help prep dishes. Crème brulees were baked and chilled, ready to be topped with sugar and torched just before serving. The stuffing and root vegetables were all set to bake in the oven alongside the turkey. Chard and brussels sprouts were trimmed and stored in the refrigerator, all they needed was a quick cook on the stovetop.
The day of: bake turkey, finish dishes.
Being such a big bird, our turkey started roasted in the morning; meanwhile, we set out the dishes and topped the table with gourds and tea lights. When the turkey came out of the oven — a big, beautiful, burnished thing of beauty — several other dishes went in to heat through, and we enjoyed appetizers. Over drinks and nibbles of local cheese and bread, I shared stories of the farms that grew the different ingredients for our meal.
The main event
In the flickering candlelight, we began our feast by going around the room and saying what we were each thankful for that year. For me, it was not only for the blessing of family and friends, but also for all the hard-working farmers, winemakers,and food producers in our region who devote their lives to growing and providing healthy, delicious, sustainable food for us to all enjoy. I looked around the room, at the food, at the people, and took a mental snapshot: this was what Thanksgiving is all about.
Tips for a Locally-Sourced Thanksgiving
- Plan ahead to reserve a turkey with your farmer of choice; many take reservations up to a few months in advance.
- If you can’t get a direct farmer connection, many local co-ops and natural food stores also offer the option of reserving or purchasing a turkey raised on a small, local farm.
- Finger Lakes wines are a natural accompaniment to traditional thanksgiving foods. Try a nice dry Rosé, a few dry or semi-dry Rieslings and a juicy Cabernet Franc with the turkey.
- Maximize what’s available in our region in late November—think root vegetables, potatoes, winter squash, fall fruit like apples and pears, and dark leafy greens.
- Enlist guests in prep, and share stories of where and how you found your different ingredients.
- Like pie? Source your ingredients locally: lard or butter, fruit, maple syrup, and Farmer Ground Flour for making bread and crusts.
Amy Maltzan is the Seasonal Cooking columnist for the magazine and is an avid home cook, gardener and local foods enthusiast. You can read more of her writing at her blog Eggs on Sunday.