Thanksgiving is usually one of the nation’s busiest travel holidays. This year, however, many of us are sticking close to home.
Living in the time of a global health crisis has highlighted the importance of our local community and its resources. It may take extra effort to focus on our blessings during such a trying year, but the resilience and community spirit of the Cape Fear region is certainly something to be grateful for.
Farmers, artisans, and small-business owners have adapted to meet the challenges of life and business in a pandemic, and area residents have come to a greater appreciation of these producers.
Shopping local is one way to demonstrate gratitude to the people who’ve worked hard to provide necessities when national supply chains were threatened. Here’s where to find the ingredients you need to make a locally sourced Thanksgiving dinner.
First things first: the turkey. You can bake it, fry it, smoke it, or even grill it. However you choose to cook the turkey, you can buy it from a local farm. Veteran-owned Changin’ Ways Farm in Hampstead is guided by David Borkowski’s mission to promote environmentally conscious food. Humble Roots Farm in Scotts Hill is the family farm of Kyle and Katelyn Stenersen, and is built on the philosophy of responsible, biblical stewardship. Co-owners Juliann Janies and Gregory Hodgdon rescued a long-neglected Burgaw farm to start Red-Tailed Farm and focus on sustainable agriculture.
All three of these farms are offering humanely raised and processed turkeys this year. While much of your shopping can be done the week of Thanksgiving at one of our area farmers markets, you should reserve a turkey as soon as possible.
If turkey isn’t your thing or you want to try something new this year, there are other local options. The three farms named above offer other meats as well. Red-Tailed Farm even has duck.
Wilmington native Gayle Jackson Straight, one of the original owners of Jackson’s Big Oak Barbecue, now operates Alchemy Ranch along with her husband, David. Alchemy had to relocate after Hurricane Florence but can be found at the Riverfront Farmers Market selling pork, lamb, beef, and even rabbit, all sustainably farmed. Tidal Creek Co-op will have vegetarian and vegan options and a selection of local meats as well.
For some of us, Thanksgiving dinner is all about the sides.
Collards are the traditional greens of the South, and they’re grown in Wilmington by Humble Roots Farm. Though collards (and kale) grow year-round in the Carolinas, they get sweeter after a frost, so we can hope for a little cold snap to sweeten the leafy greens before Turkey Day.
There’s some debate about whether the topping ought to be marshmallow, corn flakes or brown sugar pecans, but there’s no disagreement about the necessity of sweet potato casserole on the Thanksgiving table. Though the sugar content makes it practically a dessert, the main ingredient is still a vegetable, so we can all go on pretending it’s healthy, right? Look for locally grown sweet potatoes from Red Beard Farms of Burgaw, run by husband-wife team Morgan and Katrin Milne.
Some Thanksgiving staples aren’t in season locally during the fall. Green bean casserole and mashed potatoes rank among the most-requested Thanksgiving dishes but, since green beans and potatoes are both summer crops here in southeastern North Carolina, you aren’t likely to spot them at the farmers market in November. But you can still pick up these veggies at Tidal Creek Co-op or Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood. Cranberries are harvested in November, but they only grow in cooler climates. If you’d like to make your cranberry sauce from scratch, Eagle Island will have fresh cranberries brought down from New England.
Red Beard Farms and Delco-based Wild Meadow Farm both will have locally grown mushrooms available this month. Add them to stuffing or make your own cream of mushroom soup to infuse a green bean casserole with local flavor.
In-season vegetables include cauliflower, beets, chard, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, and a variety of winter squash. Whatever your favorites are, you can probably find them at an area farmers market or roadside stand.
While shopping for all the traditional essentials, check with local producers and see if they’re offering anything you’ve never tried before. Kohlrabi, fennel or parsnips could become a new specialty, something to dazzle the family with when you’re all finally gathered together.
Just as important as the Thanksgiving dinner table is the dessert table.
The quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, pumpkin pie, would be a challenge to make from a locally sourced pumpkin. That’s because the canned pumpkin pie filling we’re all used to is made from a patented variety of vegetable that’s a close relative of the butternut squash. Pumpkins grown here are far better for decorating than baking pies, so we can all keep with tradition and buy cans of pumpkin pie filling — just like our grandmas did.
Apples don’t grow well near the coast, but they are in season in the western part of the state. Look for North Carolina apples to go in pies, cobblers and cakes.
If the turkey is going to take up all the oven space, turn to professionals for dessert. Eagle Island takes special orders for traditional treats, including a 14-layer chocolate cake just like grandma used to make. Check with The Red Eye Bakery in the Brooklyn Arts District for a variety of sweets, including gluten-free options.
While coffee can’t be grown in the Carolinas, you can fight off a food coma and support area businesses with locally roasted coffee. Newly opened Maven Coffee Company, launched by Nicolas and Diana Nino, offers unique, direct trade Colombian coffees. Will Chacon and Nina Hayhurst-Chacon of Luna Caffe in the Castle Street Arts District started roasting coffee for the café and its customers this year. Vigilant Hope Roasting uses coffee to fight poverty through empowerment and employment as part of the ministry of Vigilant Hope, a Wilmington nonprofit.
With thoughtful planning, Thanksgiving Dinner 2020 can be a meaningful celebration filled with tangible reminders of life and community here in the Cape Fear region.