A LOCAL THANKSGIVING FEAST
By Jesse Griffiths
Photography by Jody Horton
Thanksgiving, our annual celebration of food and gratitude, has evolved in a curious manner over time, meandering from its primitive and almost desperate origins into a wholly American holiday. We all know that blunderbuss-toting pilgrims were saved by helpful, and in retrospect somewhat overly trusting Native Americans. Five hundred years later, by the time I experienced my first few Thanksgivings, the event, and especially the food, had taken on a drudgery rooted in my consciousnesses as the annual opportunity to overindulge in turkey and televised sports. And pie.
This was never my idea of a proper gustatory celebration. At the very least, if one does choose the day for giving thanks, why be thankful for a turkey from Ohio, or anything from a can? I was relatively young when I put an end to all that, in my extended family, at least.
As my grandmother looked on in horror, I prepared the first of what I hope will become our non-traditional tradition: a meal composed of foods raised with pride and care by our neighbors. At the time, none of our neighbors raised turkeys, so we ate a duck. We’ll have bison this year, with turnips and brown rice, just to test Grandma Betsy, but we’ll keep the Michelob, which is the family beer.
And so, until Hallmark trademarks Thanksgiving and Butterball becomes mandatory, I’ll think of this day as The Only Food Holiday, because this is the day of the year when food is center stage—no presents, no egg hunts, no fireworks.
The flavors remain the same: bird, spice, pumpkin, fruit and sage. This combination comes about not by chance or whimsy, but through an agrarian imperative—one of the last vestiges of seasonal eating left in our society. I know Squanto and his new friends were pleased with the food they were able to kill, grow or forage, because it sustained them and connected them to each other and their land. Preserving this connection is now our prerogative.
We have beautiful products in Central Texas, especially on the seam of the two seasons that coincides with Thanksgiving. Winter squash and lettuces are available, but tomatoes aren’t out of the question, either. Persimmons and apples are easy to find, and, with a little ingenuity, you can arrange for ducks, turkeys, pheasants and doves (think of them as little turkeys.) There’s no need to use words like “bounty” or “cornucopia”—just take a look around and see what’s growing, swimming or flying.
These recipes reflect what’s available now and here. If you’re a traditionalist, mix a few new dishes in with your old favorites. Either way, I don’t think there’s a better way to celebrate The Only Food Holiday than with food from your own community and a group of people you like, love, or are related to by blood. Consider that the people who produce the food you’ll be eating—farmers, ranchers, gardeners—will be sitting down to do the same thing. Celebrate the essence of the day: eat, and be happy you have food and people to share it with.
Tangerine Glazed Duck
Standing Rib Roast of
Bison with Herbs
Pumpkin, Mushroom and Colby Gratin
Sausage, Duck & Rice Stuffing
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with
Roasted Root Vegetables
60 Day Salad (page 38)
Persimmon Rum Cake
Bourbon Pumpkin Tart
with Streusel Topping