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Life & Times Locavore: A local feast — celebrating Thanksgiving with seasonal produce

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Posted on: November 9, 2023

BY IMKE AHLF-WIEN

After I moved to the U.S., in 2006, Thanksgiving quickly became my favorite holiday. A day focused on cooking, eating and gathering with family and friends? Bring it on! And ever since I started to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place, I’ve made sure to include plenty of local, seasonal foods in the feast.

In Germany, where I am originally from, communities and churches celebrate “Erntedankfest,” which can be translated as “harvest festival,” usually on the first Sunday of October, to give thanks for the recently accomplished harvest. While you may see beautiful displays of fall crops in churches and marketplaces, this festival doesn’t involve the large gatherings of family and friends in private homes with elaborate home-cooked meals found in the U.S. during Thanksgiving. 

But it’s easy to combine the two. Until about 150 years ago, seasonal food was all that was available, which means many ingredients for beloved Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts are in-season in November: potatoes and sweet potatoes, pumpkins and apples, turnips and winter squash, kale, collards, spinach and even mushrooms. While these dishes don’t all go back to the origins of Thanksgiving, they do reflect many of the foods served at a typical 17th-century feast.

There are several farmers markets in the area that may carry the ingredients for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes. This month, we feature the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, which will be open the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 21, from 3 to 6:30 p.m. You can preorder a turkey from Groff’s Content Farm a week before, buy bread for stuffing from RavenHook Bakehouse (or Manifest Bread next door), and find seasonal produce from one of the following vendors: Blue Berwyn Farm, McCleaf’s Orchard, Cat’s Paw Organic Farm and Fajardo’s Produce Farm. In today’s recipe section, you’ll find some of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes that include plenty of in-season produce such as red cabbage, carrots, kale, butternut squash and potatoes. 

Red cabbage salad with garlic vinaigrette 

This quick salad is a great starter and adds crunch, color and fiber to your Thanksgiving dinner. 

Ingredients:

  • ½ medium head red cabbage, shredded
  • 3 carrots, ends removed, trimmed and shredded
  • 1 cup grapes, cut into halves lengthwise
  • 3 green onions, cut into thin rings
  • ¼ cup fresh dill, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

In a salad bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, grapes, green onions and dill. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the garlic, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, and salt together. Pour this dressing over the salad mix, and toss well.

Kale and Butternut Squash Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 bunch purple or green kale
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly butter a medium-size gratin dish. Peel the squash, cut through the middle, and remove the seeds. Cut into slices, about ¼-inch thick. Remove the stems from the kale and cut into thin slices. Mix the kale with garlic, salt, thyme and nutmeg. Place half of the kale mix in the gratin dish. Place the squash slices on top of the kale mix in one even layer; then place the other half of the kale mix on top of the squash. Pour cream over vegetables. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes, until tender.

Mix the cheese with the breadcrumbs. Remove casserole from oven, discard the foil, and sprinkle the cheese-and-breadcrumbs mixture over vegetables. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for another 5 to 10 minutes, until golden brown.

(Recipe adapted from “Kale and Butternut Squash Gratin” by Virginia Willis) 

Heavenly Potatoes

This dish has become a staple on our Thanksgiving dinner table. While it takes several days to prepare (in simple steps that don’t take more than 20 minutes each), all you have to do on Thanksgiving Day is put the casserole in the oven. It’s been adapted from Three Rivers Cookbook II by Carolyn S. Hammer (Editor) and Susan Gaca (Illustrator).

Ingredients:

  • 10 medium yellow potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • 1 pint half-and-half
  • ½ to 1 cup milk, as needed
  • 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper 

Directions:

Day l: Parboil potatoes for 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight. 

Day 2: Peel and grate potatoes into a shallow 3-quart casserole. Mix in onions, handling them as little as possible. Carefully pour butter, cream, half-and-half and milk over the potato-onion mix, and season to taste. The mix should be moist, but not soggy. Cover and put in the refrigerator. 

Day 3: Remove casserole from refrigerator 2 hours before baking. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

 

Imke Ahlf-Wien is a nutrition educator with a passion for fresh, locally procured foods.

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