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Giving Thanks: Celebrate Local Foods This Holiday Season

Use our tips for sourcing and cooking local foods for a bountiful holiday meal.

| November/December 2014

  • Look to small-scale breweries, distillers and winemakers to complete your local holiday menu.
    Photo by StockFood
  • Celebrate your region’s abundance with a holiday meal that stars locally raised meats and vegetables.
    Photo by StockFood
  • Find locally grown foods in fall by checking with your local farmer's market, co-ops and natural grocery stores.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • A big part of the true first Thanksgiving meal, oysters are an intriguing way to celebrate our nation’s aquatic bounty.
    Photo by StockFood
  • If you can combine locally grown grains (ask a local bakery for leads) with farm-raised fats and local fruits, you have hit the pie trifecta.
    Photo by StockFood
  • Making a locally inspired and healthful stuffing is easy because the dish is infinitely adaptable.
    Photo by StockFood
  • Choose pasture-raised turkey for superior flavor, texture and juiciness.
    Photo by StockFood
  • Brussels sprouts, cooked simply, will balance a hearty meal.
    Photo by Fotolia

Thanksgiving is perhaps the most feel-good of American holidays. We come together expressly to be grateful for the bounty in our lives. It feels even more meaningful when our meals celebrate local, seasonal and well-raised ingredients. A meal centered around local foods will be specific to your home, reflective of your local ecology, and it will taste a heck of a lot more delicious than foods shipped from afar. And consider the joy you’ll feel knowing your family’s feast supports your neighborhood farmers and artisans.

By now, many of us know about the nutritional and environmental benefits of eating locally grown food. But you may not be aware that the economic benefits of doing so—predicted by many food activists just a few years ago—are now becoming substantial. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, foods sold directly from producers to nearby consumers, grocers and restaurants grossed nearly $5 billion in 2008. What does that mean for you? Finding small farmers who sell direct to consumers is becoming easier and more convenient in nearly every area of the country. Small farmers are carving out conscientious, consumer-driven business models that are simultaneously chipping away at Big Ag and proving to be successful enough to support themselves and their laborers with real wages.

What follows are a handful of ideas for participating in your own exciting local food economy on our foodiest holiday. We suggest you don’t stress yourself out trying to source every ingredient locally. Instead look to whatever bounty is available near you as a way to make your Thanksgiving celebration meaningful and enjoyable—plus more nutritious and better for the planet and your local economy, to boot.

Local, Pastured Turkey

Pasture-raised and heritage turkeys are a world apart from the Butterballs you may be used to. They don’t look or taste anything like those unhealthy, factory-farmed, flavorless birds. It follows that if you attempt to cook a pastured turkey as you would a Butterball, you will be very unhappy. The key to enjoying the superior flavor, texture and juiciness of a pastured turkey is to understand that it needs to be prepared differently. Heed the following cooking tips to enjoy a better bird than anything you could hope to get from an industrial farm.

Cooking Tips

• Aim to buy a fresh bird processed one to four days before you receive it—keep in mind this usually means putting in an order at a farm well in advance. Keep it on ice for at least the first 24 hours to age it naturally, which helps tenderize the meat.
• Use internal muscle temperature (taken in the breast) as your guide to doneness. The USDA says a turkey is safely cooked when it reaches 165 degrees, yet pastured turkey experts disagree wholeheartedly. To avoid destroying your delicate bird, instead aim for 140 to 145 degrees (salmonella is killed after 12 minutes at 140 degrees). If the breast reaches temperature before the dark meat, cut off the legs and put them back in the oven while you prepare the rest of the meal.
• The leaner flesh of pastured birds cooks faster than industrial birds and is better suited to high temperatures, 425 degrees or higher. Cooking time varies depending on size; some small birds may be done in as soon as 45 minutes. Expect the turkey to take roughly six to eight minutes per pound.
• If you prefer low-and-slow cooking, pour an inch of stock, wine or cider beneath the roasting rack, and coat the bird in butter or olive oil—ideally under the skin. Pushing fat beneath the skin is especially helpful with older birds that benefit from basting. Then cook the bird until it reaches temperature—an example would be at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound.
• Save the carcass for stock-making. Turkey stock can replace chicken stock in any recipe.
• Plan to pay more. Raising finer-flavored breeds in conscientious ways isn’t as cost-efficient as factory farming. Expect to pay $2 to $5 per pound. For ideas on maximizing the purchase by using every part of the bird, check out Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal.

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