Last two days I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for eight. I got most (not all) of my fruits and vegetables--organic, of course-- at the Hollywood Farmer's market. I try to buy my fruits and vegetables in the farmer's market all year to support Southern California farms and to reduce energy used to grow my food. The market was spilling over with great looking fall produce I got--corn, grapes, pears, sweet potatoes, red leaf lettuce. The day before Thanksgiving I got a free range 10-lb. turkey at Whole Foods market, and I'm glad I got a smaller free range turkey rather than a monster bird raised in lock-up.
All year long I've been reading on blogs about buying food from within 100 miles of where I lived. Yes, I buy my fruits and vegetables all year from local farmers at Farmer's Market, but I do make exceptions for spices such as cloves, allspice, and cinnamon from Trader Joe's and Ralph's. I've just discovered a new fair trade organic coffee called Peruvian Cafe Femenino at Trader Joe's which smells just wonderful. Another exception is tea, which I'll buy fair trade. Thinking of my spices I was reminded of the spice trade from India for thousands of years imported spices like cloves and cinnamon.
Besides the spices, I wanted to dedicate my menu to native American foods--corn, squash, sweet potato, turkey, cranberries, and, of course, pumpkin--and wanted to connect with these indigenous foods by cooking them. One way to give thanks on Thanksgiving is to honor the Native farmers and cooks who created the great American foods. I planned the menu to be as American as possible:
California green salad with corn and red wine vinegar/olive oil dressing
California white wine
turkey with herbs de provence
Spicy roast sweet potato butter- from Pueblo Indians
Oaklohoma Corn and Squash Pawnee
Cranberry orange sauce
fruit nut stuffing with cranberry, apricots, and walnuts
green beens with almonds
pears and grapes
Peruvian coffee and tea
chocolate mints (a gift from my guests)
Ok, the herbs de provence --thyme, summer savory, lavender, basil, fennel seeds--is a herb mix from the south of France, but I said earlier I let myself use spices and herbs from across the seas as well as Peruvian fair trade coffee.
I learned that green beans also originated in the Americas. Green beans along with kidney, navy and black beans belong to the plant species known as Phaseolus vulgaris. Peruvian indigenous peoples first cultivated all these beans which originated from a common bean, and then other Native peoples brought the green and other beans to other parts of South, Central, and North America. The Spanish explorers brought green beans first back to Europe. Of course, Native American farmers first cultivated corn, squash, sweet potato, and chocolate as well as pick wild grapes and cranberries. Some Native Americans mourn Thanksgiving because it led to such deaths for Native people, but I think the holiday can be redefined to honor the greatness of Native American farmers and cooks whose discoveries benefited us all.
As I cooked I really got into the smells and feel of fall foods--cranberry, sweet potato, pears, grapes, apples, turkey. People kept on saying that it was a lot of work to cook for eight, and it is, but shopping and cooking with these wonderful American foods is a way to experience the fall as well as to give praise to American food traditions and local farmers.