Organic Thanksgiving Vegetables
While the Turkey gets most of the attention on Thanksgiving, the vegetables and side dishes really make the meal. Every year around Thanksgiving, there are lots of morning show segments about how to make innovative side dishes, or give your stuffing a “kick.” I am definitely NOT about giving my Thanksgiving side dishes a makeover. They are just fine the way they are. I do cook my turkey in kind of a strange way, though, and I did learn how to do that on TV. The Today Show had Jamie Oliver on in the fall of 2005, and I watched how he cooked the turkey. He did three very different things.
- He cooked stuffing and put it between the skin and the turkey breast to keep the meat moist.
- He poked holes in the legs and stuffed rosemary in the slots to give flavor.
- He lastly microwaved and orange and stuck it in the cavity to help keep the cavity warm and cooking.
Enough about turkey, though. It’s the veggies we are here to talk about. How to grow them, when to harvest them and how to cook them. It might be a little late to grow your own organic vegetables for Thanksgiving this year, but you might get a few ideas for next year. It is definitely not too late to use the recipes!
Here are the big favorite Thanksgiving Vegetables (and one fruit, for good measure): Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potatoes, Cranberries, and Pumpkins. Below, how to grow, harvest and prepare these goodies for Thanksgiving. (Some of these, I wouldn’t bother trying to grow myself, but it is interesting to know how they grow.)
I really can’t look at pictures of pumpkin pie right now without wanting to buy one, make one, and/or eat one all by myself. I recently read an article about the best type of pumpkin to use for your pies, and it seems that even top chefs swear by plain old canned pumpkin. It is smoother and easier to work with. Here is my time-tested pumpkin pie recipe:
- Go to grocery and buy one can of Libby’s Plain (not seasoned) Packed Pumpkin and a frozen pie crust.
- Go back to grocery to buy the correct type of milk in a can (I always end up with the wrong one, and end up having to go back. You need evaporated milk, NOT sweetened condensed.)
- Make pie according to recipe on back of pumpkin can. You cannot get any better than that. No pumpkin cheesecake, no pumpkin/nut/funky pie. Libby’s is the best!
As far as growing your own pumpkins, they are pretty easy to grow. If you want to grow, roast and puree your own pumpkin, you need to grow sugar pie pumpkins. Start your pumpkin seeds indoors before the last frost, but do not plant out until the nights reach at least 50 degrees. They need at least 50 linear feet to grow, and at least 100 days to harvest. You MUST harvest your pumpkin before a frost, or it will rot. Store in a cool, dry location until you are ready to use it.
You really can’t grow your own cranberries unless you have a bog in your backyard and you live in Massachusetts. Some interesting things about cranberries: they grow on vines in the bogs. Cranberry farmers apply a “winter flood” to keep the cranberries from freezing and their temperatures stable. This flood is in place from December 1 to around March 1. In order to harvest the cranberries, many farmers flood the fields again and let the cranberries float to the top, where they are scooped up and sent away to be processed.
Best Cranberry Sauce Recipe
This recipe comes from my graduate school adviser, Dr. Swasey.
1 pound cranberries
1 whole orange, cut up
1 cup sugar
Boil the cranberries, whole orange (including the rind), and sugar until the liquid evaporates and the sauce becomes thick. Serve hot or cold. Yum!
The best brussels sprouts are entirely drenched in butter and roasted. It is healthy to boil them, but they will make your entire kitchen smell like cabbage, and if you cook them entirely in butter, you might die of a heart attach. There is a better way! Cut them up very thinly, and broil them on a cookie sheet with some pieces of lean ham for flavour. They will carmalize and be yummy!
Brussels Sprouts are in the cabbage family. They are a long-season vegetable that requires at least 80 to 100 days to mature, but they do ripen in the cold weather, making them a viable option for gardeners in almost every zone. Transplant them mid-summer to the garden, and then allow them to ripen in the frost. They will become sweeter, the colder the weather.
Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America, and as such, require a long frost-free growing system to develop large roots. Sweet potatoes are a fairly low-maintenance plant, once established in the garden. They require little water, and need no water during the last month of cultivation. The potatoes are dug and allowed to cure on top of the soil for three or four hours, and are then picked up and stored for a couple of weeks at 85 degrees and 85% humidity. After that, they can be stored at 55 degrees in a dark location.
I used to hate sweet potatoes. I’m not going to lie. My Aunt Linda’s sweet potato casserole recipe reversed my views. Here is her (not so closely guarded) family recipe.
3 large cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 stick butter, melted
Mix all and pour into greased 9×9 pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. While baking, mix topping.
3/4 cup crushed corn flakes
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter, melted
Mix and spread over casserole. Bake ten more minutes. Enjoy!
Ok, so maybe you can’t really grow these veggies yourself, but you sure can eat them. Happy Thanksgiving!