Cooks dish up locally grown Thanksgiving meals
ADDISON COUNTY — “It’s just a no-brainer to be a localvore on Thanksgiving.”
That’s according to Francie Caccavo, the owner of Olivia’s Crouton Company in New Haven. And it’s not hard to see why Caccavo embraces eating locally this time of year: Though the growing season is giving way to frosty temperatures, many farmers are still selling a bounty of root vegetables, squash and other produce.
Add those veggies to a long list of local cheeses, bread and products like Caccavo’s own croutons, made in New Haven, and it’s not hard to envision a Thanksgiving spread that pays homage to Vermont farmers.
“We live in a really unique area where this is possible,” Caccavo said.
This year, for the first year, Caccavo’s company grew some if its own certified organic wheat, and now wheat grown on its New Haven farm accounts for 20 percent of the wheat they buy to bake the bread they use to make croutons and stuffing mixes. Her company also uses Vermont butter and cheeses.
“We do what we can with the ingredients that we have,” she said.
Come Thanksgiving, she’ll do the same at her own table. She rattled off the list of her favorite Thanksgiving dishes: cheeses from Orb Weaver Farm just across the town line in Monkton, homegrown pumpkins for pie, turkey from Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven.
“This is such an easy meal to be a localvore,” she said
Down the road from New Haven, the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op is stocking up on local foods. Though summer’s bounty of fresh basil, summer squash and bright cherry tomatoes is long gone, Judith Falk, the assistant manager of the produce department, said local vegetables are still in abundance this time of year.
“We’ve got local beets, potatoes, cabbages, Brussels sprouts,” she said. “Carrots, lots of different kinds of squashes, rutabagas, turnips…”
The list keeps going. Shoppers can pick up fresh cranberries from East Fairfield, not to mention locally grown broccoli and lettuces. Crates of various varieties of local apples call out to be made into apple pies, and onions and shallots are ready to hop into homemade stuffing.
Falk said that using local ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean spending any more time grocery shopping or preparing a meal. Of course, a home cook should be prepared to put in a little extra elbow grease scooping out pumpkin flesh instead of popping open a can of pumpkin pie filling.
“If you’re cooking from scratch anyway, it’s just as easy to buy local items,” Falk said.
That’s her plan for the holiday. She said that many locally grown vegetables — especially root vegetables and some winter squashes — will continue to be available through December.
“I will be making just about everything with local vegetables,” Falk said. “We’ll have squash on the table, and mashed potatoes, of course. We’ll make our stuffing from local bread, roast local Brussels sprouts.”
And what, pray tell, will Falk be drinking to wash down all of those dishes? Likely local wine, she said.
She doesn’t have to be the only one. With Lincoln Peak Vineyard just a hop, skip and a jump north of Middlebury, vino made from grapes grown in the region is at the fingertips of most area residents.
Chris Granstrom, Lincoln Peak’s owner and chief vitner, said that the beauty of the Thanksgiving meal is in large part its variety, which means home cooks have a lot of leeway when it comes to pairing a wine with their spread.
“The dinner is traditionally such a mixture of different things that almost anything would work,” said Granstrom, who added that choosing a wine to pair with the meal often entails simply taking into consideration the preferences of the diners sitting down to the table.
But of course, the wine and the veggies and even the pumpkin pie are all supporting actors to Thanksgiving’s main star: the turkey.
In Orwell, Paul Stone was busy last week; the owner of the 1,000-acre Stonewood Farm was busy rushing to meet Thanksgiving turkey orders. Every year, Stonewood raises 26,000 turkeys to sell fresh during the holidays, which means all of the slaughtering happens in the fall. About half of the farm’s sales are in Vermont, though their market extends throughout New England and New York.
Stone said he’s grateful when customers choose to support local farmers. But he stressed that buying a locally raised turkey has other benefits, too.
At Stonewood Farm, the turkeys are raised without the use of any antibiotics or growth hormones. They’re fed a diet of corn and soybean meal — no feed additives, Stone said, and no meat meal or fishmeal.
Plus, the farmers at Stonewood don’t inject any extra liquid into the turkey after slaughter, which isn’t always the case when it comes to some major turkey producers. Stone said brands like Butterball pump extra oil, water and fat into the turkey in order to “pre-baste” the meat.
Stone, for one, says he can tell the difference between fresh, local turkey meat and industrially farmed poultry.
“It’s hard not to tell,” he said. “Ours is much tastier and juicier.”
He advised his favorite way of preparing the bird is simply to put it in the oven and baste it.
“I just roast it the regular way,” he said. “Nothing fancy.”
Check out more recipes for Thanksgiving dishes using local ingredients, and share recipes from your own kitchen, on the staff blog.
Olivia’s Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing
courtesy of Francie Caccavo
• 1 lb. bulk type pork sausage (like breakfast sausage)
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 5 oz. (2 cups) sliced mushrooms
• 1 cup (about 1?2 medium Spanish) onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup (2 large stalks) celery, coarsely chopped
• 2 teaspoons dry thyme leaves
• 1?2 teaspoon ground rosemary
• 4 cups (a 5 oz. bag) of croutons (ones flavored with garlic are good)
• 1 cup chicken broth (a little more or less depending if you like “wet” or “dry” stuffing)
• salt and pepper to taste
Fry pork sausage in a large skillet — at least 12 inches across and 2-3 inches deep — until completely cooked, crumbling and turning frequently. Prepare your vegetables, as above. When sausage is completely cooked, remove and defat.
Clean skillet. Return it to medium heat and melt butter. Add vegetables and herbs and sauté about 10 minutes, until lightly cooked and onion begins to look clear. Turn off heat, add croutons, chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste, stir gently and let stand about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until liquid is absorbed.
Yield 8-9 cups or 44 oz. Your stuffing is complete. You can use it in your bird, or put it in a covered casserole and bake 30-40 minutes and use it as a side dish. For a crispy top remove the cover for the last 10 minutes.