Celebrate harvest at Thanksgiving
By John Zvirovski, Sun Garden Editor
The Thanksgiving Day holiday is just days away with many of us thinking about the delicious feast ahead. Unlike the Christmas holiday, this day is filled with fewer sweets and baked goods and more wholesome foods and products from the garden.
The day of giving thanks came long before the Americas, during the 1500s. In England there were years known as Days of Fast and years of Days of Thanks.
Days of Fast were recognized during years of drought periods and low harvests and very small meals were served, if any. Days of Thanks were celebrated by a year of good harvest and bounty. After the 1600s the holiday became known as Thanksgiving to be celebrated regardless of the abundance of harvest to give thanks for all that the year gave whether great or small.
In the Americas, Thanksgiving was a three-day event that brought the pilgrims and Native Americans together in a celebration of culture and partnership. Today the holiday is most common in the United States and Canada; however, there are other countries that still recognize a similar tradition.
I have found that the Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to have the entire family over to enjoy a festive time together, to be thankful for not only the harvest of our gardens and crops, but to also be thankful for the family and friends in our lives. The large meal that brings everyone together just happens to be the sensory draw that everyone enjoys.
When you begin to look at all the preparations to create the meal at hand, take a close look to recognize the many items that came from your own garden. If there are not many you grew, think about the items you could grow next year especially for this day.
In our house, there are snack items sitting at the table before the meal begins such as green and black olives (which do not grow in our area), celery sticks (which take a long season to grow to maturity), carrots and apples. Of course the carrots and apples easily grow in our region with many large selections to choose from.
When it’s time to sit down for the main course, there is the all-familiar turkey that comes out of the oven. If you live on a farm, you may raise these yourself, otherwise many purchase them from a store. This is accompanied by fresh bread created from the grain harvest in the area and potatoes that can easily be pulled from the garden in shades of red, yellow and white. Potatoes are planted in early spring and dug in early autumn. If they are cured and stored properly, these can be used most of the winter. A great alternative to regular potatoes are sweet potatoes with their orange flesh, high in fiber, beta-carotene and vitamins A and C. They are considered one of nature’s power foods because they are so packed full of nutrients. They tend to be much more flavorful also. Since they require a long growing season, these are easier grown in the South and Southeast regions of the country over our region.
Stuffing is usually created with dried bread along with herbs, onions and mushrooms. Sometimes an addition of water chestnuts or wild rice adds unique texture and flavor to the mix. Placed inside the roasting bird, the flavor combines with all the juicy richness for a savory delight.
The vegetables that tend to be placed on the table are fresh green beans, wonderful orange selections of squash that are also packed with nutrients, and roasted vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, peppers and rutabagas.
Lettuce salads are often a great side for the meal, however, try replacing the lettuce with spinach, mint and kale for a crunchier and more flavorful blend. Not only does it have more flavor, the nutrient combination is much, much higher than that of lettuce. Of course, most salad items and herbs can be grown in our own gardens to be used throughout the year. Sometimes fruits like raspberries and apples are added to the salads along with a touch of flavorful cranberries grown in the bogs from the upper Midwest. Add a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans and you have just the touch to make it complete.
Enjoy fresh apple cider from the pressed apples from your trees or open a bottle of homemade wine from the grapes you have grown on the vines. The possibilities are endless for this annual harvest celebration.
Once the meal is finished, most of us mill around the house or take a walk before the final course is served, which usually consists of fresh apple or pumpkin pie. As you know, both of these are grown in our region and have some of the best flavors. It is a good way to end a day of festivities.
When using all of your garden favorites for this meal, try and use as many as possible from your own crop as they always have better flavor. Limit your uses of creams, salts and butters and add more herbs as you will find this brings the flavors out in a more dominant fashion.
Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy the bounty of this year’s harvest along with family and friends. Take the time out this year to enjoy everything and give thanks for how it enhances your life. Maybe next year most of the items that are displayed on the dinner table will be items you grew and harvested from your own garden. Add some fresh cut flowers from the local florist and you will have a perfect holiday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!