Our Local Thanksgiving

Well, my challenge to myself was to source as much of our Thanksgiving Day feast foods as locally as possible. I am annoyed at myself because every year, we always take a picture of our spread and this was the first year I failed in that, and this is the first year it really mattered to me what our spread looked like.

So, starting with the blatantly unlocal stuff. I did not extend my challenge as far as the goods other family members were bringing. Anna Jean was bringing deviled eggs and Dottie was bringing the beloved dish affectionately known as “green glop” (lime jello, pineapple, and marshmallow salad) and pumpkin pie. Because cranberries don’t seem to grow in Virginia and I really do like cranberry jelly, I got a plain old can of cranberry jelly. Next year, I am going to make my own. The white potatoes came from the store because I couldn’t find decent white potatoes at the farmers market except for tasty small new potatoes that would not make good mashed potatoes. And of course there was the Savory Toasted Cheese.

Other than those items, pretty much everything on the table, down to the fresh herbs for seasoning, were local.

Of course the star of the show was the turkey. At $6.50 a pound, it was really hard on our budget. One would hope that for $95, it would be the most amazing turkey you have ever tasted.

Fortunately, it was. Yes, I will spend $100 on a turkey again. I brined it in a fairly unscientific brine of a cup of sea salt, a half cup of brown sugar, a variety of herbs and garlic, in enough water to cover the bird for about 18 hours in a 5 gallon lined drink cooler out on the back porch overnight.

I worked very hard this year to smooth out timing issues that have been plaguing me over the past several years. I spent most of Wednesday afternoon doing a lot of pre-cooking. I made my mushroom stuffing and melted the STC together, I sliced and boiled the sweet potatoes for my sweet potato casserole. I mandolined all the veggies for my “root vegetable salad” and got them coated in their olive oil and herb coating to sit in the fridge overnight. I really need a nicer name for that dish since “roasted root vegetable salad” sounds shockingly unappetizing, but the end result is a delicious, sweet and savory dish of perfectly cooked squash, purple onions, carrots, garlic, parsnips, and garlic cloves.

All this prep work made Thursday morning the most relaxed Thanksgiving morning I have ever had. I still had to be up at 6am to get Tommy in the oven, but that didn’t bother me. If the pan goes in the oven length-wise, it leaves enough room on the side to put a smallish dish in next to it, which meant things like the dressing (I do actual stuffing in the bird and dressing in a dish for those who are concerned about contamination, even though I also check the internal temperatures of the stuffing) and the sweet potato casserole could be baking simultaneously with the bird. I was religious this year about checking on Tommy and checking his internal temps as the morning went on. There was NO way I would risk over- or under-cooking him. At exactly 11am, as my plan had been and thankfully worked out to be, he had reached the appropriate temps I was looking for and out he came for a good long rest. That allowed the root veggies plenty of time for their one-hour roast.

At 1pm, everything was ready to serve. Byram had a very hard time carving up Tommy because the physiology of the bird was unlike any regular turkey we have ever had. He had more muscle, fascia and sinew, tougher skin, and was more boat-shaped than flat and round like an ordinary turkey, so he would not lay flat on the cutting board (or the roasting pan for that matter).

One of the things that really startled Bryam and I as we worked with the bird (though in different ways) was just how physically different it was. The giblets were HUGE compared to a regular bird, as would be necessary since he lived outdoors, moved very freely, and could even fly (a regular bird cannot fly, even if it had access to space to do so). It would of course need a larger heart to move more blood. Its internal cavity was huge as well to accommodate all those larger organs. The breast was smaller (but not by a whole lot) but the thighs, legs, and wings were much bigger, and the dark meat was absolutely delicious.

For all the expense and worry and work of getting it right, that was the most amazing turkey we have ever had. Interestingly enough, the skin was not especially tasty, though I didn’t add a ton of seasoning directly to the skin, just smeared it with butter and a little salt before roasting. I usually find the skin on a regular bird to be yummy. It didn’t matter that the skin wasn’t tasty though. The meat itself was so good that you didn’t need the skin for extra flavor.

As for the rest of the table, the food was generally really good too. The mashed potatoes flopped, but they were the last dish I put any effort into and I don’t know if it was the choice of potato (russet) or the much larger quantity I made than usual, but I couldn’t get any flavor into them no matter how much half and half, milk, butter, and salt and pepper I added, and I could not beat the lumps out of them. Ah well. Of all the things to flop, mashed potatoes were the least important.

The roasted vegetables turned out to be a big hit when in the past they have been less popular. And shock of shocks, even though there was “bird-free” dressing on the table, everyone kept going for the stuffing we had taken out of the bird, even all those who are generally fearful of it. That blew my mind. And they all loved it too.

All in all, I would call the Local Thanksgiving Challenge a big success.

Now the big question. So how about the budget? Excluding things I always have in the house like flour, salt, eggs, milk, chicken broth, and butter, which of course do add to the total, but were not bought specific to this meal, the total for my part of dinner came out to be about $120.

That is a lot of money, but then I broke it down further. I fed 8 people one meal. That works out to $15 a head. So that makes my Thanksgiving dinner about the price of a decent sit down dinner in a restaurant (excluding drinks). But then, I sent leftovers home with 2 people who didn’t have to make dinner that night. So that is 10 meals.

Friday morning, we ate leftovers for breakfast. Call that 2 more meals (since Grace didn’t eat as much and I don’t eat a huge portion), so we are up to 12 meals served, bringing the cost down to $10 a meal. We continued to eat leftovers for lunch and also dinner on Friday. Add 4 more meals to our overall Thanksgiving meals. Now we have served 16 meals from that dinner.

Saturday was a Thanksgiving-free day, and we splurged on things like homemade steak, eggs, and bacon for breakfast, lunch at a local, charitable restaurant, and dinner with friends.

Byram was 100 % done with turkey but we still had a bunch leftover, so since he was gone all day on Sunday, I made a sort of Mexican Turkey chili thing. Grace wouldn’t eat anything so spicy, so I made her steamed broccoli leftover from the head I bought at the farmers market for Thanksgiving, and served her rewarmed turkey pieces and rice. I had the Mexican chili on rice for lunch and dinner, which my mom ate as well. I would call that one real serving since it was just turkey even though it fed 3 of us for last night’s dinner. That makes 17 meals, and there is still enough turkey left that I intend to make into turkey salad to eat for lunch, which I would call one last small meal, bringing the tally up to about 18 meals served out of the $120 I spent on Thanksgiving.

That brings my total to about $6.67 per meal served. Yes, $120 is not playing around money, especially when our budget is squeezed to the limit right now, but getting that many meals out of it makes it surprisingly economical when you consider the grand scheme of things.

So, my conclusion is that I loved the local challenge and even with the insanely expensive turkey, it was no so expensive as to prevent me from doing it again. What a wonderful experiment this turned out to be.

If I do Thanksgiving at my house next year, I would do this again, and I would tweak only a couple of things like maybe I will serve roasted local new potatoes instead of plain old mashed potatoes and I will get green beans while they are in season and blanch and freeze them or can them while they are fresh to serve in November. I will make my own cranberry jelly from non-local cranberries, but without all the HFCF in the Ocean Spray stuff. But that is about all the changes I would make.

Thanks for following along if you are still with me, 1700 words into my wrap up. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Next challenge: Occupy Christmas and make it Local! I will come up with details and ideas and post soon.

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One response to this post.

  1. Glad it all worked out. Very impressive.

    Reply

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