A Homegrown & Homemade Thanksgiving Dinner
It might be difficult to raise everything you need to serve a completely self sufficient Thanksgiving dinner. However, what you can’t raise on your own, you may be able to purchase from a local farm or cook most of your meal from scratch. Some of these suggestions need to be planned in advance. Obviously, you aren’t going to start raising your turkey now for this year’s feast! But let’s take a closer look at what you can do for your Thanksgiving meal this year, and what you can plan for the future.
What Will You Serve for Thanksgiving?
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner often consists of:
- Turkey or other native game
- Squash or Sweet Potatoes
- Mashed Potatoes
- Green bean casserole or other greens
- Pumpkin, pecan, or apple Pie
How Much Can You Grow?
If you have the land, time, and desire to grow all of the food you need to serve a completely homegrown Thanksgiving dinner, that’s great! Most people aren’t able to do this, so don’t feel bad if you can’t. Maybe you can hunt or forage for some of your feast, and raise some in your backyard. And remember, if you support your local farmers, they will be able to continue to raise food for you in the future!
The Bird or Wild Game
If you have the license, experience, and space to hunt safely, you might be able to bag a wild turkey, deer, hog, or pheasant for your holiday table. Since I don’t have the land for hunting, I raise my own turkeys. I process them myself and freeze them for later. You can raise your own turkeys, if it is allowed in your area, or perhaps buy one that was raised locally. (Check out my article about raising turkeys at the bottom of the page.)
To have a nice sized turkey ready in time for the holidays, start broad breasted poults by the middle of June. Heritage birds need to be started earlier, March works well for me. Feed them a high protein mash or crumble and allow them some pasture to graze. You should have a beautiful bird in time for Thanksgiving.
Stuffing & Rolls
Growing your own wheat for bread and rolls is a space hungry project. I buy organic flour from our buying club and I like to bake my own rolls and bread for the stuffing. You will also want a supply of sage, thyme, and summer savory to season the stuffing and yeast (maybe you can use sourdough instead) and water to make the bread. Bake bread ahead of time so you can slice and dry it a bit for the stuffing.
An alternative is to stuff your turkey with vegetables from your garden and maybe even nuts foraged in your area. Apples, onions, and walnuts with herbs make a wonderful stuffing that is closer to what our forefathers ate for holidays.
Gravy is made from the meat drippings, water, flour, and salt. You can make a perfect gravy every time if you mix about 1/4 cup unbleached flour, 1 tsp salt, and just enough water to make a paste. Keep adding small amounts of water and mixing thoroughly until it is a bit thin. Bring the meat drippings to a slow boil and add the flour mixture, stirring constantly until it is blended. Stir the gravy and boil until it is thick and bubbly. Add seasonings to taste.
Squash or Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are iffy here in the northern Midwest, but if you live further south you can grow your own. I usually grow several kinds of squash. Winter squash or pumpkins are delicious baked with a bit of butter and honey from a local beekeeper. For the best storage, try growing Butternut squash. They will often last until early spring.
For the best mashed potatoes, grow a boiling type of potato that keeps well. Yukon Gold is one of my favorite potatoes for mashing. Peel and boil, then add milk and homemade butter as you mash them. I don’t like a super smooth texture, so I like to do the job with an old fashioned potato masher.
Depending on where you live, you might have fresh, locally grown cranberries available. I’m pretty close to Wisconsin, but can only find these tasty berries at the grocery store in plastic bags. I’ve seen cranberry bushes for sale in some gardening catalogs and I keep resisting the temptation to order them. Our soil is pretty alkaline, so I really don’t think they would do well for us. For a once a year treat, I don’t mind buying them, but maybe you can grow your own as a landscape shrub around your house.
Green Bean Casserole
Personally I prefer my green beans without all the ‘goop’ on them. But if you like splurging on this dish, why not grow your own green beans and make the cream of celery soup from scratch? If you have a milk cow or goats you can make the sour cream from scratch. Top with your own sliced and browned onions. Who needs a tin can of soup or crusty onions? It might take a bit of experimentation, I’ve had a few flops! These days I usually opt for a green leafy salad or some broccoli.
Pumpkin, Pecan, or Apple Pie
I can grow my own pumpkin for pie, and I have wild apples I harvested and froze in October. I don’t have pecans…they just aren’t hardy enough here. I’ve been making pies since I was a kid, so I’ve never really understood why there is such a market for store bought pies. I’ve had a couple slices and they pale in comparison to a homemade pie. It really isn’t that difficult to make a pie from scratch, but many people have never tried.
To make a truly self sufficient pumpkin pie, you would need your own eggs, milk, pumpkin, wheat, and lard. The spices are imported, so I guess we can’t get quite that self reliant for our Thanksgiving dinner. What would a pumpkin pie be without cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger?
Most of Us Can’t Raise It All…
But we can try to supply as much of our own Thanksgiving dinner as we can. With one acre of land I can do a lot, but I can’t do it all myself. It really isn’t easy to be completely self sufficient, but it’s very possible to grow some of the food you need for your holiday feast or buy from a local farmer. Then cook it all up from scratch for a real sense of satisfaction! (Please don’t feel bad if you need to use some time saving products from the store to make all the prep work go more quickly. I’m not a purist!)
Did you raise some of the food you will serve at Thanksgiving? What do you raise yourself? What would you like to raise, but haven’t tried yet? I would love to hear about your plans for Thanksgiving this year!