Photo by Nada Powers Bunnell – Loganberry Heritage Farm
A Guest Blog
By Jennie Inglis, Cleveland, Georgia
I could write a narrative on our locally/Georgia/regionally grown dinner that is as long as the dinner was large. I would like to write that, but the story soon becomes entangled with twists and turns until the details are overwhelming. Instead, beyond an introduction, I will write about each item; each has its own story as to how it came to our table on Thanksgiving Day, 2009.
The idea of creating a locally grown Thanksgiving dinner came to us in the late summer of 2009, just about the time that we realized that we wanted to cook our own dinner. Married for two years, my husband Mark and I decided that we wanted to do Thanksgiving OUR way. Also, in late summer, we were harvesting and gleaning items from our very first garden, a modest effort of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, radishes, beans, basil, mint and cilantro. The sense of bounty we felt from the items we had planted was supplemented by verdant blackberry and blueberry bushes that were the legacy of friends who had formerly tended the same plot.
With the decision made in September, the first order of business was to notify our families that we would be cooking for ourselves this year rather than visiting and dining with them, and they were invited.
Not long after, we began to address the question of what would be the menu. By choosing to make a locally grown dinner, we quickly realized that the ‘traditional’ American meal of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pie might or might not be what we ended up with. Surprisingly, the menu wound up being not all that unusual. It was the process by which we created the meal that was different.
What does ‘locally grown’ mean? Our dinner soon became locally/Georgia grown and ended up being a locally/Georgia/regionally grown dinner. What defines local? Is it proximity? Is it a political boundary – local or state? Is it a watershed or geographic boundary, which are often related? Is it personal connections? I would love to discuss this question, but will save my thoughts for some other time.
Our dinner party was fairly small, although we extended invitations to over a dozen people. All of our guests live in unincorporated areas of their respective counties: Walter and Jeanie in Habersham; Jim and Lynn in Habersham (when they are not living in Atlanta); Margie in Rabun. Mark and I live in White County. Some folks accepted our invitation knowing our plan, others did not but participated willingly (with a wee bit of coaching).
And the dinner? It was lovely. The day was sunny, turning overcast and finally cold and brisk. Mark and I worked in tandem from 8:00 a.m. until 1:30 when our guests arrived. We dined at a gracious tempo; conversation flowed easily. We walked in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the stream, animals, and sky. Dessert followed (as if we needed it) and then an hour of so of music.
Our locally grown dinner consumed our time, our hearts and our intentions. It was not a meal from a can or the grocer’s freezer. As we reached out to hug friends and family who are closest and dearest to us, so we also reached for the fruits of the earth that are closest and dearest to us. For that I give great thanks.
More about the food we used:
Cornmeal: We soon realized that the menu would be shaped by the fact that wheat is not a grain grown in Georgia, certainly not in the northeast mountains. We began thinking in terms of corn meal and corn flour. Corn meal appeared in our appetizers, our compliments, our side dishes and even in our desserts. It, above all things, acted as a common thread throughout the dinner.
Assumptions: With several items, we had to assume that “packaged in” or “distributed by” meant “product of”. This, of course, is not necessarily correct. For example, to research the origins of the pecans that were “shelled and packed” by a company in Monroe, GA to determine where the pecans came from was beyond the scope of my time and energy for this dinner. That would be the action required for a research paper.
Garden items: We were not good record keepers regarding provenance of the plants that we put into our garden this year. I regret that I cannot share the name or ‘brand’ of each plant with you. Suffice it to say, we bought the seeds and seedlings at Lowe’s.
Where we cheated: We did not think twice about using spices such as cinnamon, allspice, and salt. We also did not even try to find a source of oil other than olive oil. Coffee, decaffeinated, was a no-brainer. After an afternoon of heavy eating, and for Mark and me hours of preparation and cooking, coffee was not something we would deny ourselves or our friends.
Apples: Apples appeared in multiple dishes, and we purchased them from Farmhouse Produce, Jendi’s Corner Market, and Ingles. We knew that some of these places sell only north Georgia apples, we also knew that we wound up buying some North Carolina apples. Jim and Lynn created the apple crisp from all local ingredients, including apples from Jaemor Farms.
Basil: The basil came from our garden. I do not know the type we planted. It grew strongly all season into late September, giving us many harvests with which Mark created basil and olive oil stores for the winter. It is one of his favorite herbs.
Blackberries: The blackberries were a gift from ‘the universe’. The plot which we gardened belonged to our friend Larry who had rented the place to his cousin Dennis for years. Dennis planted domestic blackberries along the fence around the garden. They produced prolifically all season. They were large and often sour, even at full ripeness. Bob, our neighbor, suggested their best use was for making wine, but we enjoyed them throughout the summer in cobblers and may yet make jam from them.
Blueberries: The blueberries were also a gift from ‘the universe’. Nine bushes were planted by Dennis. Beginning in June, I spent hours joyfully harvesting the sweet, night-blue berries. Bob said that this year’s crop was nothing compared to previous summers. The extensive May rains may have lessened their production, but there were plenty for our needs.
Butter: We learned last year that Farmhouse Produce sold a North Carolina butter (Foothills). We still have not determined where Jonesville is, but we figure that if a small, local store is getting it, it must be somewhere in the region. The mountains of Appalachia have a feeling of neighborhood-ness. Even a place as far away as Asheville, NC sort of feels like a town in our “neighborhood”.
Carrots: Beautiful carrots came from Loganberry Heritage Farm, a sustainable agriculture effort started by Sharon Mauney now in its second growing season. The carrots were pulled up just the week before Thanksgiving, doing better the longer they stayed in the ground. Some of the carrot tops wound up in with the greens.
Cheese: Cheese seemed like a critical ingredient when we first discussed our menu. As we refined our planning, it became less important. It was served as an appetizer and was in the green bean casserole. Mark found Foothills cheeses, the same producer as the butter we buy, at Jendi’s. We sought out Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses (www.sweetgrassdairy.com) and were surprised that none of the local stores carried it.
Chicken: A local turkey might’ve been available from the Country Smokehouse Meat Market in Blairsville (www.countrysmokehouse.net), but we did not try very hard to find one. Jeanie and Walter tried to get chicken from a fellow who raised them for the local Hispanic community, but that fell through. Instead, they purchased three Springer Mountain Farms chickens which were tender and tasty.
Cider, apple: The apple cider from Hendersonville, NC was a last minute purchase. We’d discussed serving apple cider, but neither of us had bought any, so Mark picked it up the day before Thanksgiving at Ingles. If we had looked for it sooner, I am quite sure we could have found some made in Georgia.
Corn meal: I’ve been a great fan of Nora Mill and Granary for years. It is a water powered gristmill from 1876 set on the upper reaches of the Chattahoochee River that still produces for the public. They try to use local sources when they can. We had bags of corn meal already on the shelf, but intentionally bought some from Nora Mill so we’d have the real local thing.
Eggs: We have a generous neighbor, Susan, who recently began raising chickens. Upon request, her young boys cheerfully deliver eggs to us on a 4-wheeler. She got the chickens last year but lost several to a neighbor’s dogs this past spring and started again. The eggs are flavorful and excite Mark with their proud yolks every time he opens one. Thank you, Susan.
Garlic: Garlic does quite well in these parts. I would never have thought that Georgia was a big garlic producing state, but lots of folks grow it. Sharon at Loganberry Heritage Farm put in a hundred-and-something bulbs last year and she doubled the number this fall. She was overwhelmed by the plant’s production this summer. We enjoy garlic, and used it in almost every dish we served and still have plenty left over!
Green beans: Mark was intent on planting pole beans this year. I had no preference. We were surprised at how many packets of bush beans there were at Lowe’s versus pole bean packets. The bean plants took forever to produce. In fact, we thought they would not, they set so late, but once they decided to come in, they did! We froze bags and bags of green beans, strings and all.
Greens: We used greens, a mixture of mustard, turnip and collards that came from Mark’s workplace, the Stephen’s County Peer Center. They raise a garden there as part of the program. We also added some Loganberry Heritage Farm kale (and garlic) to the mix. We have some in the freezer and could have gotten turnip greens from the public patch on Charles Black Road. So, there were greens aplenty!
Honey: We had three containers of honey in the cupboard: some from France brought by Mark’s daughter, some from Tennessee brought by my cousin and some from North Carolina bought by Mark. When I saw that I needed two cups for the spiced syrup, I figured I had to purchase some locally because I could. Allison’s Honey is just up the road, offering a wide variety of local honeys.
Ice cream: Ice cream was an unexpected joy at our locally grown dinner! Creamy, sweet, delicate vanilla ice cream from Spring Ridge Creamery complimented our desserts We’d thought that the best we would be able to do would be to get cream for whipping, but Spring Ridge does not list it on their website, so we got ice cream (see the note below about Margie and the milk) – some of the last of the season – instead!
Milk: We’d heard that a friend in Sautee-Nacoochee was a source for raw milk. I did not pursue that. We knew of Spring Ridge Creamery in Otto, NC, but I was not willing to travel that far to make a purchase. Turns out that since Margie lives in Rabun County it was not such a burden for her to pick some up. Jim brought a pint of cream from Mayfield Dairy (www.mayfielddairy.com), a regional producer.
Mint: We served a mint tea, chilled, and Mark used dried mint in the pumpkin soup. We planted mint in the center of our garden, a lesson that we may have learned not to do next year. I picked it occasionally during the growing season, but it wasn’t until we were clearing out the garden in September that I harvested it. Lots of folks will be getting gifts of dried mint for Christmas.
Onions: Onions were one of the hardest and last items to find. I called a half dozen private and public producers. Folks had either not planted onions or planted and already eaten them. We were prepared to cheat when Mark spotted Vidalia green onions at Jendi’s Corner Market. While it was not what we were looking for, they did the job nicely, adding flavor and color to several dishes.
Peaches: The peaches in the compote were amazing. Mark had frozen them in halves, skin and all, and they came out beautifully. The compote was served in lieu of a cranberry dish. Some of the peaches were purchased from Jaemor Farms, others were purchased at Jendi’s Corner Market, which means that they would be Georgia or South Carolina peaches.
Pecans: We ate a year’s supply of pecans in one meal. They were an appetizer (roasted), in the stuffing, in the green been casserole, in the sweet potato dish, in the apple crisp and in the sweet potato pie that Jeanie brought. We purchased them at Farmhouse Produce and the bags said that they are shelled and packed by the Stone Mountain Pecan Company in Monroe, so we can only hope that they were actually Georgia pecans.
Pumpkin: The pumpkin had been waiting patiently since Halloween. It came from a place on Town Creek Church Road in Lumpkin County. Each year they set them out for sale, $2, $3 and $5 each. They are the pale skinned kind. Their flesh, though, is intense orange. Mark used a quarter of this enormous vegetable to create a lovely soup, We hope to freeze the remainder.
Sorghum: We purchased the sorghum at Farmhouse Produce, thinking of it for the Indian Pudding, Then we checked the recipe, and it called for molasses. I set about searching for molasses. Mark bought an Alabama product at Ingles. Once he started cooking though, he said the sorghum had the better flavor, so we used it instead! Yum.
Sweet potatoes: Sharon Mauney at Loganberry Heritage Farm provided us with sweet potatoes. They were the remainders of this year’s crop, hard and ‘mangled’, so she gave them to us at not charge. The trick was to get them to Margie in Rabun County. We needed to get the potatoes to her to create the casserole and she needed to get the milk and ice cream to us. With a flurry of emails, we did it!
Vinegar, apple cider: It was the week before Thanksgiving that I began considering compote recipes. I was pleased to find one that called for honey, but it also required apple cider vinegar. The first person I asked about it suggested that I make my own. Alas, I did not have time. I called Jendi’s Corner Market and they were able to get it from Hillside Orchard in Tiger that afternoon. Thank you, Jendi’s.
Wine: Yonah Mountain Vineyards was the featured Georgia wine of the dinner. That is mostly because I work for them. As one of the newest wineries in the state, they make some of Georgia’s finest wines. We served their 2008 Viognier, Radiance Rose’, 2005 Harmony, 2006 Majestic and 2006 Genesis. Friends brought California and French wines which are local wines to some people.