Our urban agriculture students, and Extension Educator German Cutz visited with Senator Richard Blumenthal at the Danbury Connecticut Farmers’ Market on Saturday, September 24th. Our students in the urban agriculture program complete extensive classroom hours, and hands-on learning in the field and markets.
By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD
The origins of the American Thanksgiving celebration can be debated. For early settlers, the occasion was often religious in nature, offering thanksgiving and praise for many blessings, not just a bountiful harvest. But, traditionally, we are taught that the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day in 1621, following their first harvest in the New World. Accounts indicate that this was a three day feast, attended by both the new world settlers and Native Americans, who shared what they had produced as well.
In 1863, Thanksgiving was given national holiday status in a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. While it has come to mean many things (football, the beginning of the holiday shopping season, etc.), the holiday continues to be a celebration that is centered on bringing family and friends together for a large meal, often at least partially based on that 1621 Pilgrim feast.
One thing we know for sure…the meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans was locally grown! It might have included turkey, but definitely duck, goose, or even pigeon and venison; shellfish, including lobster, oysters, mussels and clams, smoked fish; corn porridge made from Indian corn; chestnuts and walnuts; and pumpkins and squashes. Potatoes and cranberries had not arrived yet: and if they had pumpkin, there was no pie, as flour was not available. They might have had some fresh vegetables, but in November they were likely limited to onions, beans, cabbage, and carrots.
Chances are, they meal was composed to a large extent of meat, fish, and fowl and more meat, fish and fowl.
So, since we, too, are located in proximity to the first northeastern settlers, why not be true to tradition (at least a little bit!), and try for a Thanksgiving feast composed of food grown and/or processed in Connecticut. It can be done pretty easily with just a little effort.
First, consider what produce is seasonally available. The Crop Availability Calendar located on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) web site (go to www.ct.gov/doag and click on “Where to find Connecticut Grown Products”), indicates that in November, apples, carrots, greens, mushrooms, onions, pears, potatoes, turnips and winter squashes (including pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and others) are available. Find these fruits and veggies at a farmer’s market or local farm stand near you. Occasionally you may be able to find local products at your larger grocery store as well, but support your farmer at the source. There are over a hundred farm stores in Connecticut. A listing by county can be found on the DoAg website as well. Farmer’s markets are beginning to wind down for the season, but many remain open until Thanksgiving, selling the very produce listed above. At least 10 on the DoAg listing remain open until November 22, with a handful holding on until late December.
Some might think, “OK, that’s the easy part, what about the turkey?” Just as you can buy local produce, in our state, it is possible to support local producers of turkey and other fowl, shellfish from our waters and, perhaps, if you are a hunter (or, at least good friend with one), add venison to the mix.
Actually, finding locally grown poultry might be easier than you think, though the trick is ordering your bird before they are all spoken for. Demand is greater than supply for that locally produced turkey. Again, go to the Department of Agriculture web site above, click on “Connecticut Grown Products” and head to the Poultry and Eggs section. Here you will find listed by county and identified by product (turkey, chicken, eggs, etc.) a poultry producer near you. Again, it is extremely important to order early. I can tell you this from experience. A few years back I had to drive two hours to Sterling, (almost to Rhode Island) to pick up a turkey that was way bigger than I needed; just to get a “local” bird for my Thanksgiving dinner! Now I order in October and don’t have to drive nearly as far.
If your holiday meat of choice is the venison you (or a friend) were lucky enough to bring home, just a few food safety notes to keep in mind. The Pennsylvania State University has a great resource for handling deer safely, titled, “Proper Care of Venison from Field to Table.” This publication “contains guidelines and helpful hints to help you ensure that the food you’re providing is safe.” Nothing ruins Thanksgiving like a bout of foodborne illness!
We all know that sometimes what makes a holiday meal special is not the main players, but the bit parts: relishes, sauces, condiments and desserts. Use Connecticut eggs in your pies, cream in your whipped cream (beats the spray can any day!), and butter on your mashed potatoes or in your sweet potato brown sugar glaze. Sweeten your desserts (or sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots or acorn squash) with local maple syrup. Add spice with locally sourced pickles, relishes or sauces—a good place to find them is your local farm market. Complete your dinner with a locally produced milk, cider, wine or beer.
Additional lists on the Connecticut Grown site include those for apple growers, honey producers, maple sugar houses, meat producers, organic farms, and vineyards and wineries. Or, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.
By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD
UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety
Photo: Tomatoes at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Credit: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension
After a food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad…), it is time that many of us resolve to eat healthier and, perhaps, to attempt to eat more locally grown foods. It sure can be difficult to live with THAT resolution during winter in Connecticut.
Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety. But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods. You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you. Actually, there are 10 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you. Included are the Fairfield and New Canaan Farmers’ Markets in Fairfield County; the Hartford Market at Billings Forge in Hartford County; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven, Madison farmer’s market and Guilford farmers’ markets in New Haven County; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market in New London County; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington farmers’ market in New London County. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times. Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.
Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter. If it is an outdoor market, it WILL be cold—or there may be snow on the ground. Indoors or out, the food choices will be different. You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.
You might also discover Belgian endive, broccoli, broccoli raab/rapini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, or radicchio.
Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad. Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods. Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts. Or try making a cole slaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.
Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.
While you’re at it, this might be a good time to splurge a little and buy some locally produced meats, poultry or shellfish. Locally produced animal protein foods may be a bit more expensive, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it. Most farmers’ markets will have these products as well as local artisanal cheeses and other dairy products. Give them a try and you will be hooked.
Finally, while not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a “seasonal” food. It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market. First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet. Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!). Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive. The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens. Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.
Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread. Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin. A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.