Thanksgiving is once again upon us, and that means shopping for groceries and making family favorites: Turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, yams, potatoes, green beans, pumpkin and apple pie. For many of us, Thanksgiving would be entirely unthinkable without these items.
Among all holiday meals, none inspire conformity like Thanksgiving dinner. But I wonder if that means the meal itself has become ritualized. Do we now celebrate the items on the menu rather than the set of circumstances that brought English colonists and Wampanoag Indians together for two days of feasting in 1621?
Over those now-legendary days, it was not the smell of roasting turkey that enticed these frequent combatants to gather around, but their mutual joy at a particularly plentiful harvest. If we valorize that piece of the story, the meal itself must differ considerably from place to place. Our tables would be populated not by products flown and trucked in, but only by those items we could source locally.
If you'll permit such an iconoclast suggestion, it might help us to recapture the spirit of Thanksgiving by eating foods produced exclusively in Colorado. Of course, this poses a few challenges. First and foremost, most harvests in the state happened over a month ago. There isn't any local celery for sale, so making stuffing might be tricky. Also, cranberries, sweet potatoes and yams are out, because nobody grows them here.
Fortunately, there are few other privations that must be suffered in order to have a Colorado-only holiday. And that includes the bird. Free-roaming, all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free turkeys can be ordered from Mountain Mama Natural Foods and Par Avion. You can also celebrate the Wampanoag contribution with venison and elk from one of many locations around town.
To accompany the main course, a wealth of durable root vegetables and squash is readily available. Colorado-grown potatoes can be found at every store listed in the capsules to the left. Those stores also may stock parsnips. Starchier and creamier than potatoes, parsnips are delicious sauted and mashed, and work well in stuffing, provided they are cut into small enough pieces.
One widely available Colorado-grown root vegetable is the beet. Not commonly associated with Thanksgiving, its earthy sweetness and versatility makes it a valuable addition to any holiday table. Beets can be roasted whole at 425 degrees for an hour, then peeled and sliced. Topped with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil, they are delicious by themselves. In addition, they can be shredded or cubed and used in stuffing.
Among the most varied and versatile of durable winter produce are the hard squash available at most every store. Acorn, delicata and butternut are among the most common varieties. Each can be split in half and roasted, and butternuts make great soup.
Somewhat rarer, the kabocha squash makes an excellent sweet potato substitute. Remove the rind and seeds, then cube. Set the cubes into a small amount of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook without turning, tossing or shaking for 5 to 7 minutes to brown the bottoms, then toss and let them go another five minutes. Finish with salt and enjoy alone or add to stuffing. Most importantly, local pumpkins abound, so the classic dessert can still make the table.
Finding fresh greens is harder, but still possible. Rocky Mountain Natural Store sells lettuce raised right here in the Springs, and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace has Colorado spinach. If you choose to work with beets, their greens can be washed, coarsely chopped and sauted with some local onions. Under heat, they'll shrink down into a tasty and nutritious side dish. Whole Foods Market also has oyster and shitake mushrooms, and many markets in the area will sell Colorado tomatoes and local herbs from Osage farms.
Mountain Mama and Rocky Mountain are on dessert brigade, which extends well beyond pumpkin pie; they offer pears and apples from Colorado. Besides pies, crisps and tarts, both can be used to bolster stuffing or keep the youngsters' hunger at bay.
Although it will take some work, a hearty and delicious Colorado Thanksgiving dinner can be assembled. Why go to all this trouble, feel so constrained, sacrifice family favorites? Because doing so honors those in our state who work every day to feed us, and because it brings the gratitude, for the bounty of our farms and the bounty of our lives, back to the core of the celebration.
Mountain Mama Natural Foods
1625 W. Uintah St. #A, 633-4139
Peterson Farm turkeys, beets, parsnips, squash, potatoes, crimini and oyster mushrooms, quinoa, apples, pears and sprouts
1827 Southgate Road, 636-2328
Barber Natural turkeys
Rocky Mountain Natural Store
1502 W. Colorado Ave., 329-0180
Potatoes, beets, apples, squash, lettuce
Whole Foods Market
7635 N. Academy Blvd., 531-9999
Pumpkins for pie, fingerling potatoes, hard squash, oyster and shitake mushrooms, parsnips, sprouts, cluster and flavorino tomatoes and yellow onions
Wild Oats Natural Marketplace
3180 New Center Point, 622-1099
Holiday squash, tomatoes and spinach