A 10-Mile Thanksgiving
Last Thanksgiving, I sourced most of my ingredients from within approximately 10 miles of my home in Bridgman, Michigan.
I was inspired by The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella, a Michigan native.
In this book, Rinella tells of sourcing a Thanksgiving meal over the course of a year: foraging, hunting, preserving and communing with friends to produce an elaborate meal, re-creating recipes from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire. My meal was not nearly as complex as Rinella’s, but there were adventures in the collection of ingredients and a spirit of community pervaded each dish.
Succotash—lima beans and corn sautéed with butter and onion— was on the menu, as traditional for me as cranberries. In August, I’d visited my favorite roadside produce stand in Baroda and scored fresh beans in their pods. Corn also came from a nearby farm, and both were frozen separately, in anticipation of the late-November harvest feast. For me, the taste of succotash brings back summer memories as winter looms.
I’d feared I would need to forgo cranberries and was resigned to serving a blueberry relish, as the original settlers may have. Then, less than a week before the holiday, I stopped into Local New Buffalo, where Ellie Mullins excitedly called my attention to fresh cranberries from St. Joseph, Michigan. (I had previously disclosed my 10-mile challenge to Ellie, who recommended a Three Oaks turkey farmer.) Ellie suggested cooking the Michigan cranberries in apple cider, which I did. I then further sweetened them with honey from New Buffalo bees.
Sourcing squash from within 10 miles is absolutely no challenge at all—you can find it at almost any farmers market. I pan-roasted butternut squash cubes and accented them with raw pumpkin seeds, goat cheese and cider vinegar. The sweet, sour and crunchy additions enhanced the richness of the squash and the goat cheese.
Ultimately, the meal was much more about what I could find locally than what I couldn’t, but there were no mashed potatoes. I couldn’t find any in the last days before the holiday that weren’t from Idaho or elsewhere, and I hadn’t stored any. They weren’t missed. All that was sacrificed was lots of peeling, and the absence of spuds freed up a burner on the stove that otherwise would have been committed to one dish that needs to be finished at the last minute. No problem. There was still gravy—and stuffing to soak it up. My Thanksgiving sous-chefs, my mom and her friend Dan, made the stuffing the night before while I was at work. Per my instructions, the bread was torn, not cut, into cubes. I’d hire them both again.
I met my turkey in its last days. Well, I visited the entire flock on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They seemed utterly oblivious to what awaited them just a few days later. I can’t be sure which one ended up on my table and in my soup pot for my traditional Black Friday Kitchen Sink Turkey Soup, but it was a privilege for me to see the big white birds with red wattles grazing at the farm. The air was mild that day, the sun was making a quick descent into the western horizon and a donkey brayed loudly as I observed the flock with Shelley Zeiger, who raises turkeys each year at her family farm on Warren Woods Road in Three Oaks.
My turkey definitely wasn’t a Butterball, but it was a lovely bird, not too large and elegantly butchered. I buy and eat very little poultry or other meat, but when I do, I respect the animal and try to use every bit. The flesh of the bird reminded me much more of a game bird than the turkey most of us are familiar with. I could have been a bit more liberal with the butter when I roasted it, first breast side down over a bed of carrots and celery, whole, stacked like a pyre beneath the bird, then turned over for a final browning, breast side up.
Not a morsel of the bird went unappreciated. What wasn’t eaten that evening, or saved for sandwiches, went into a soup pot: pan drip- pings, scraps, all of the beautiful bones—the foundation of the best broths. The low simmer of the large pot revived the savory aromas of the day as it came to a satisfying close. I have as much fondness for the soup that gives the bird its true final say as I have for the Thanksgiving meal itself.
In the end, the meal was devoured in a fraction of the time that it took to plan, cook and serve, but like the meal itself, which often follows a fairly rigid menu, that’s little surprise. What made last year different from the rest of the dozens of Thanksgiving dinners I’ve enjoyed in my life was the premeditation and deliberation that went into bringing it to the table, which was festively decorated by my mother, with green long neck gourds, reminiscent of swans, and beautiful handmade napkins in fall colors.
I savored my memories of gathering, preserving and planning as my companions and I dined, remembering other meals and imagining future feasts.