Friday November 26, 2010

Foodbuzz 24x24: Thanksgiving Heritage

With any holiday, as the culture that celebrates it becomes distanced from the historical context of the original, time both dilutes and reshapes the meaning. A natural function of society’s collective memory, perhaps. Yet the transformation of Thanksgiving, over the centuries, seems especially ironic.

From humble beginnings as a purely agrarian celebration, literally, Thank God we have enough food! to a gluttonous, if not always Epicurean, day of culinary indulgence, sprinkled with vague murmurs of gratitude and finalized by the observance of grown men in spandex racing and wrestling about for control of a pig skin. Not to mention Black Friday fueled chaos in the streets.

Now. Let me state in no uncertain terms that I have zero gripe with that. In fact, I stand in favor of instituting more holidays wherein we lay around eating, drinking, feeling thankful for the blessings in our lives and watching men in spandex. ("Sundays" as Mr. BraveTart and I call such times.)

But it does seem ironic that we now carry on this tradition of celebrating the bounty of the harvest by sitting down to a meal compromised of out of season ingredients grown by strangers, flown in from all manner of far flung places and crowned with a supernaturally sized, factory farmed, genetically engineered mutant turkey. A far cry from the “great store of wild turkeys” that original participant William Bradford described as gracing that first Thanksgiving table.

So, with the spirit of the original Thanksgiving in mind, I wanted to celebrate the harvest of Kentucky farmers. Many people, Kentuckians included, think one must live in California to enjoy amazing seasonal eating. But even in Kentucky, even in late November, even with the severe drought we experienced this year, our farmers managed to bring an amazing bounty to the table, worthy of celebration.

Farm Fresh

Apples, pears, and red corn, Reed Valley Orchard

Sage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, Mr. BraveTart’s garden

Onions, celery, eggs, potatoes, Swiss chard, organic Heritage turkey, Elmwood

Milk, cream, and buttermilk, J.D. Country Milk

Amish roll butter, Minerva Dairy

Mild Extra-Sage Sausage, Stone Cross Farm

Raw Honey, Nick Nickels

Olive Oil, Oliva Bella

Pecans, Kentucky Nut Corporation

Flour and cornmeal, Weisenberger Mill

Lorz Italian Garlic, Blue Moon Garlic Farm

A wide assortment of freshly baked bread, Bluegrass Baking Co

Last week Rosco and I went to Elmwood to photograph our Heritage Turkey whilst it still gobbled about. (Check out that post for tons of photos and more info about why we chose the expense of purchasing a heritage bird rather than a Butterball.)

Then, last Saturday, I picked up our BraveTurkey at the Lexington Farmers' Marketand learned we had a Narragansett. This breed dates to the 17th century when the settlers’ turkeys, brought from Europe, intermingled with the wild Eastern turkeys native to the Plymouth area. Back in my car, I peeked into the box to find the long, sleek bird all butchered, plucked and ready for roasting.

Not that I would have anything to do with that. Anyone who’s ever read this blog before will realize that as a baker (“pastry chef”), I have no qualifications to cook, braise, roast or otherwise prepare anything made predominately of not-sugar.

To avert utter disaster, I called upon my friend and neighbor Brigitte Nguyen to help with the more savory aspects of the meal. I figured someone who attended culinary school, works as professional chef, and hosts her own show on the Cooking Channel might handle roasting a turkey well enough.

Brigitte Nguyen

James Mastin, another friend and Bluegrass chef, had planned to attend our celebration and help this poor baker navigate the savory world. But, as often the case in the culinary community, due to professional circumstances beyond his control he couldn’t join us, leaving me alone to prepare the sides.

By “alone” I mean that Brigitte held my hand and took care of most everything.

Thanksgiving preparation

We destroyed the kitchen, in classic Thanksgiving fashion, piling dirty dishes into the sink faster than Mr. BraveTart and The Old Gaffer could scrubble. Rosco, not usually able to photograph the process of preparing the food, flew about the kitchen like a Photo Ninja, snapping pictures of just about every vegetable to meet the knife, anything in a pan, and a lot more of the dirty kitchen than I felt entirely comfortable with.

Thanksgiving mayhem

Closer to the finale, as things got out of hand, Rosco’s wife Katie, jumped in too. Though not a chef, she maintained an air of cool capability, even while somewhat suspicious of Rudolph’s early appearance. While she babysat my Swiss chard, I readied the sweet potatoes for the oven with Brown Butter Sage Marshmallows, basketed our rolls, and baked off a second round of stuffing.

Katie Weber

We all hurried about with last minute preparations, from stoking the fire to sneaking an early taste of the sweet potato “casserole” at its ultra hot-and-gooey prime.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this easily marks the tastiest dish I’ve ever made. If you only try one thing from this post, it should be the sweet potato dish. Really. It derailed our entire Thanksgiving as we all gathered around with spoons, fully attacking the dish without ever seeing it to the table.

Brown Butter Sage Marshmallows

Aside from my egregious use of out of state ingredients for the obligatory cranberry “sauce” and pantry staples like baking powder and seasonings, we couldn’t have prepared a more local meal.

Roast Turkey with Shallot Gravy

Cranberry Chutney

Sage Cornbread Skillet Dressing

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Swiss Chard with kohlrabi

Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter Sage Marshmallows

Hard Rolls

Ginger and Pear infused Maple Panna Cotta

Thanksgiving Tablescape

In the South, few household items can speak to one’s heritage like cast iron. And I have dozens of cast iron skillets, inherited from both sets of grandparents, each perfectly seasoned from generations of use. So, in honor of my long standing grudge against serving platters (the cruel multiplier of dirty dishes!), we brought our sides to the table in the cast iron skillets that we used to prepare them.

I set my grandmother’s old kitchen table (itself a heritage from her mother) in front of the hearth and laid the table with her wedding china. The handle of each piece of my Mimi’s silverware boasts an engraved “B” (for my maiden name) which we shall pretend represents BraveTart.

Brigitte lent drinking goblets from her own wedding table as well as an antique carving set that’s been a part of her husband’s family for years.

In the end, our little BraveTart family gathered around the table, said grace, and laid waste to the meal.

Carving the turkey

We’ll never forget our farm-to-table Thanksgiving; from the absolutely luscious turkey, to the vegetables harvested straight from our garden, or purchased from the farmers who tended them all summer. We truly gave thanks for the abundance of our harvest.

The meal ended as so many Thanksgivings around the country did: with everyone struggling to stay awake, feeling vaguely regretful for the second helpings of everything, and wishing we had stretchy pants.

Eighty Sixed

Ironically, we never ate dessert.

After a day of snacking along with our preparations and devouring a huge meal in true Thanksgiving style, Mr. BraveTart alone had the courage to face dessert. In the end, he couldn’t even manage to take the first bite. (Click to witness Man vs Dessert in full size.)


Rosco set to work dumping the pictures onto the computer, and I fought the Benadryl I’d downed to combat my pork allergy and began writing this post.

Mr. BraveTart, better known as the man behind The Hope Circuit wrote an electronica, instrumental piece titled “Harvest” for his debut album Of Earth and Storm, and we tossed it on the CD player to help keep us awake as we began our marathon photo editing for this post.

Harvest by The Hope Circuit

Everyone went home with a Maple Panna Cotta and perhaps this week they’ll get consumed. I’m eating mine now, for breakfast, as I type. I hope everyone else had a phenomenal Thanksgiving and finds time to enjoy their leftovers!

PS: More photos in the gallery on our Facebook Page, if you’d like to see ‘em.

posted byStellaand filed under:  Farms  Local  Sideshow Photos

23 comments and counting

Nov 26, 2010 ·  8:37 PM

Ah! I love all the in-process shots. I bet Rosco had a ball!

Great post, as usual. I am very impressed by everything you guys put together, and that you did it locally!

Also, I dig Mr. BraveTart’s track. It sounds like something from a badass sci-fi movie

 · Kaitlin ·

Nov 26, 2010 · 10:50 PM

But what wine is in the glasses? I must know

 · Kelly · 

Nov 27, 2010 ·  1:53 AM

@Kaitlin, Thanks so much! We had soooo much fun just going bonkers with the food- which actually took all the pressure off. We didn’t care if the food made it to the table hot, because we were all about the photos. But everything was still totally warm when we ate, even though we didn’t stress at all about hurrying.

I think John’s music sounds like a video game soundtrack! Thanks for listening.

@Kelly, we had a Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and another one from “Lois”? In the red dept, we followed your suggestion with an Oregon pinot noir, but of course I can’t think of what right now! Also, “casillero del diablo” cab sav/syrah. I’ve failed you utterly.


Nov 27, 2010 ·  1:54 AM

What beautiful photos! Everything looks delicious

 · Cathy ·

Nov 27, 2010 · 10:46 AM

The only thing prettier than the food is the woman who put it all together!

 · Mallowsota · 

Nov 27, 2010 ·  4:30 PM

delicious feast Stella
wow what a big turkey
lovely pictures
everyone looks like they enjoyed

 · torviewtoronto ·

Nov 28, 2010 ·  6:17 PM

Awesome post. I love the local and heritage approach you took and the fact that you spun up and amazing looking feast.

 · Loren ·

Nov 28, 2010 ·  8:40 PM

Oh my word! What an amazing feast…everything looked so delicious and I LOVE that it was all local and farm fresh. I can’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving than swirling around the kitchen with people you love creating wonderful food…and your last photo of everyone asleep at the table cracks me up. Can’t believe I’ve never staged that myself. Thanks for an entertaining and inspirational post…will have to try some of you recipes. XOXO Cindi

 · Brasspaperclip ·

Nov 29, 2010 ·  3:41 AM

wow what a great feast. I love the way your pictures telling the stories The shot that everyone pass out after the meal is hillarious

 · Tes ·

Nov 29, 2010 · 10:11 AM

@Mallowsota, I adore you my darling.

@torviewtoronto would you believe our turkey only weighed 13 pounds? Practically a baby!

@Cindi and @Tes, we had so much fun trying to pose, defeated, around the table. There were severally really good shots, choosing was so hard! Rosco took some 200 pix, all of them fabulous, and narrowing it down to the bajillion I ended up including was the hardest part.


Nov 30, 2010 ·  2:51 AM

I feel SO sad about your pork allergy. AH! I think at the top of my worst allergies ever list is gluten, and now 2nd place is pork. I do hope you enjoyed it anyway.
I loved your Sunday joke.
I think a messy kitchen is a sign of a great dinner. And this looked like that. Yum Yum.

 · Mariko ·

Nov 30, 2010 ·  1:46 PM

What an amazing meal! I love that you got everything locally, and I think that really celebrates Thanksgiving in a wonderful way.

 · Courtney ·

Nov 30, 2010 ·  8:05 PM

very nice post amazing meal!

 · pegasuslegend ·

Nov 30, 2010 ·  9:51 PM

That’s looks like a real traditional Thanksgiving – so full of warmth, good food and a beautiful table setting. Congrats.

 · foodalogue ·

Dec 01, 2010 · 12:24 AM

Wow, what a lovely meal (and decor)! I love the individual stuffings/dressings. Congrats on 24×24!

 · Kare ·

Dec 01, 2010 ·  8:05 PM

Thanks for all the cheers of support everyone! I had so much fun with the 24 × 24 event!!


Dec 30, 2011 · 11:34 PM

Stella, you look lovely and I love long hair look on you. What a fantastic Thanksgiving! We did 24×24 thingy last year too with Mariko.

 · Kemi ·

Dec 31, 2011 ·  3:22 PM

@Kemi, thank’s so much! 24×24 is so much fun! How cool for you and Mariko to tag-team it together. Thanks for visiting.


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