Today's Thanksgiving meal bears little resemblance to what was served at the first harvest celebration in 1621. The early European settlers survived more on fish than fowl, and potatoes, which originated in South America, hadn't yet made their way north. Pumpkin pie wouldn't even be invented for another century or so. According to the historians at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, squashes and pumpkins were probably served, as was corn, a staple of the Wampanoag diet. And cranberries, blueberries, parsnips, carrots, and onions--all indigenous to the Northeast--were also most likely included. In fact, only foods the settlers were able to grow, forage, or hunt within the confines of their settlement and nearby lands were on the table.
Now, almost 400 years later, this style of cooking is coming back. Around the country, top chefs—many of them members of an influential sustainable-cuisine advocacy group called Chefs' Collaborative—are increasingly building their menus around ingredients grown and raised on nearby farms. Their goal: to promote sustainable farming practices by increasing customer awareness of and demand for fresh, usually organic, seasonal foods. The result has been a purer, more simplified, but infinitely more flavorful and well-balanced American cuisine than many of us have ever tasted before.
Eating local is a smart way to effect environmental change in your community; it helps cut energy usage and pollution by reducing the number of miles your food has to travel before it gets to your table. It's also a more healthful and mindful way to eat. Healthful, because local fruits and vegetables are allowed to ripen longer and produce more nutrients. And mindful, because eating local fosters a deeper connection with the origins of your food and the people who helped produce it. More than 75 percent of consumers would like to know more about where their food comes from, according to a survey from the Hartman Group. Buy local, and the mystery is no more.
We asked six renowned chefs from around the country to provide a Thanksgiving recipe that best signifies their commitment to local foods. Prepare just one from the bunch or all six--their flavors blend together nicely. And as you shop and prepare your meal, remember: Stay as close to home as you can.
Turkey Talk: Most of the more than 270 million turkeys served at Thanksgiving are of the Large White breed--birds often plumped up on a diet high in fat and antibiotics. A heritage turkey is a leaner, healthier alternative. There are eight historic American sub-breeds of heritage turkey: Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, White Holland, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. Because they're usually raised on pastures and allowed to forage, they have stronger legs, thighs, and breasts than traditionally raised turkeys, making their meat firm, dark, and markedly richer in flavor.
How to Go Local: Visit a farmers' market. Find a state-by-state guide at localharvest.org.
Join a community-supported agricultural (CSA) program. Visit organicaginfo.org/csas for more information.
Visit a "pick your own" farm, Check pickyourown.org for a nationwide guide.
Stop at roadside farm stands.
Shop at a Iocal food co-op. Find one at cooperativegrocer.coop/coops.