Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Home Grown Colorado Thanksgiving

On November 12th, the New Oxford American Dictionary announced that its 2007 word of the year is locovore, defined by Wikipedia as: “the movement that encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better.” Local foods are also more environmentally friendly than conventional foods. It got me thinking about Colorado foods, and as an experiment, I decided to host a “Home Grown Colorado Thanksgiving” – sourcing all (or at least the vast majority) of the menu – from local producers. Here’s a report from the “Home Grown Colorado” front:

I started with a quick inventory of my garden. A long Indian summer had left us with bunches of chard, carrots and sweet potatoes. We had basil, curry, cilantro, rosemary and parsley growing in a kitchen window and a handful of garden tomatoes, onions, peppers and eggplants in the refrigerator. In the basement (our quasi -root cellar), we had pumpkins, acorn squash and dried garden herbs, including sage, oregano, marjoram, and lemon thyme. Not a complete feast, but I figured it was a reasonable start.

My next task was to find a turkey. A quick search of the Internet led me to The Eastern Plains Natural Foods Co-op ( http://www.easternplains.com/), where you can order all natural meat and poultry from local area family farms. That, in turn, led me to Tedach Ranch, a farm located in Bennett, Colorado. On their website, they invite you to visit the ranch.”Not only will you get to see beautiful and rare poultry,” they claim, “but you’ll learn what a free range poultry operation is all about and acquire a better appreciation for the American family farm.”

I immediately shot an email to the owner, Dallas Gilbert, asking if I could visit his farm and get a Heritage Turkey for Thanksgiving. He gently suggested that this was not the time to try to visit a turkey grower. “What! Are you nuts? It’s November!” he reminded me. “I’m up to my elbows trying to get 400 birds rounded up, processed and delivered.” (I’m paraphrasing here; he was way more polite than that, but I got the underlying message.) He invited me to visit after the holidays, and then he directed me to Marczyk Fine Foods, where he said I could still order one of his Heritage Birds.

Marczyk’s is a locally-owned grocery store located at 770 E. 17th Ave. in Denver. While they offer specialty foods from around the world, they also offer local produce, conveniently identified with a Colorado flag. While I was there, I picked up the bird, as plump and unadulterated as a newborn baby. I also scored some local cheeses from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy (located just off of Niwot Road, northeast of Boulder) and the MouCo Cheese Company (located in Fort Collins); a couple of exotic squashes (Kabocha and Carnival Acorn) from Grant Family Farms in Wellington; and a huge bag of Granny Smith Apples from Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss. Next door, I picked up two Colorado wines: a classic white Viognier from Garfield Estates in Palisade and a full bodied Syrah from Guy Drew Vineyards in Montezuma County.

Lo, and behold, it was a feast!

Hors D’Oeuvres:
Bruschetta (fresh baked baguette sliced and grilled)
Eggplant dip and Tomato, Pepper, Onion, & Cilantro spread
Colorado Cheeses: Camembert, ColoRouge and Queso de Mano
Wine: Garfield Estates Viognier 2006

Spiced Pumpkin Curry Soup
Roast Turkey
Bread Stuffing seasoned with garden Onions and Herbs
Sautéed Chard
Medley of Roasted Winter Vegetables
Wine: Guy Drew Vineyards 2004 Syrah

Apple Pie (Granny Smith Apples from the Western Slope)

Close friends joined us to share in the fun. We all ate heartily and left the table groaning with satisfaction. We also learned some things about eating locally. To wit:

Provisioning takes time. In past years, I’ve been able to shop for Thanksgiving in an hour. This required research. Where to find a local turkey? What vegetables are still in season? Is chard a reasonable substitute for Brussels sprouts? On the positive side, it also added the dimension of relationship. Pete Marzcyk advised me on how many apples I’d need for the pie. “It takes this many apples to make a basic pie,” he said, creating a basketball-sized space with his hands. “But to bake a pie like my Mom’s…” With a wistful look, he threw his arms open. As we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, I could envision Dallas Gilbert finally sitting back with his feet up and a rogue turkey feather in his hair. Provisioning took more time, but it was quality time. It was an exercise in mindfulness, requiring attention to the task, so that, in the end, it qualified as experience vs. chore.

You can’t get everything. We couldn’t find Colorado cranberries. Or Colorado coffee. No green salad; our kitchen garden had been nipped by frost and the lettuce in the cold frame had just sprouted. We cheated a bit, using olive oil to sauté the chard, adding cinnamon to the pie, and using flour and sugar from who knows where. But for the most part, we stayed true to the challenge. For a single dinner, it’s no sacrifice; in fact, it’s fun. As a lifestyle – (think of going for months with no fresh strawberries, blueberries, oranges, or bananas) – it would take some getting used to.

Some foods cost more. Buying fresh, healthy food can be more expensive than buying processed foods. The turkey cost more per pound than your average bird, and the wines fell in the $10-$20 range. I justified the extravagance in two ways. First, we offset some costs by using food from the garden. Second, I was comforted by the fact that money spent in the local economy has a multiplier effect. Studies have shown that money spent with local producers returns two to five times more income to the local community than money spent with national retailers. I felt it was money well spent.

Cooking is labor intensive. No boxed stuffing, turkey-in-a-bag, frozen vegetables or canned cranberries here. Everything was sliced and chopped and kneaded and pounded right in my own kitchen. It took me two days to make dinner. I thought of my great-grandmother, raising eight children on a farm outside of Rossville, Illinois, cooking three meals for ten people every single day, without so much as a mix-master. In between boiling giblets and slicing apples I sent her a silent nod. And while I was rolling out dough, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving -- that some arts have passed down, that I can still make a passable pie crust with a bit of flour and lard and salt.

The food – and the experience – was incredible. Everything was great – from hors d’oeuvres to dessert. The turkey was juicy and pure. As an exercise, I looked at the ingredients of a processed frozen turkey, which included “up to seven percent of an (undisclosed) solution to enhance juiciness and tenderness (?)”, as well as modified food starch and sodium phosphates. No word about how the bird was raised. The label on my bird touted what it didn’t have: no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no artificial ingredients, no preservatives -- just free range turkey, with giblets. The bird browned up like a photograph in Gourmet magazine; the meat was tender and delicious. As my friend Straz said, “even the white meat has flavor.” Also of note were the Colorado wines and cheeses, challenging our collective assumptions about imported fare. And the pie -- thanks to Pete Marczyk’s mom, Bill and Shirley Ela and my great-grandmother Lillian -- was spectacular! Most importantly, the dinner vaulted us into the realm of communion vs. commodity.

It was a dinner born out of an idea, sourced locally, made with care and shared with dear friends. It was sweetened with memories of digging in the dirt, watering the garden, watching rainbows rise up from the earth and visiting with neighbors while we gardened. It was enlivened by the challenge of learning new things (i.e., if you use lemon thyme in your stuffing, your kitchen will smell like lemons for at least two days!) And it was liberally seasoned with potential new friends and neighbors who labored willingly to provide us with these offerings. It served to remind me of the thousands of things we have to be grateful for -- every minute, every day.

Come to think of it, it was a pretty traditional Thanksgiving, after all.

1 comment:

maureen said...

Hey, Rebecca, very nice start to an interesting blog -- I wish you luck. I'm in the process at the moment of putting together a community gardens blog for my area, and when it's up and live, I'll be sure to include a link to your blog. We're in Montana -- similar in many ways to Colorado, so I think it will be great to keep in touch. I found your blog through the Community_gardens list where you made an annoucement about your new blog. Good Luck with it ... and I will subscribe so I can keep track of your news.
warmly, Maureen