New Ideas for Holiday Entertaining

Exotic imported foods, oysters, pate, French champagne and goose were once considered the height of style for a festive Thanksgiving menu. Today’s freshest holiday menu trend boasts organic, green and locally sourced ingredients purchased as close to home as possible.

Cooking as a locavore is now simpler than ever with the accessibility of farmers markets (there are more than 6,100 across the country), community supported agriculture (CSA) groups and the proliferation of artisan food purveyors. Forget mixes and boxes: A locally sourced holiday dinner is not only delicious and healthy, but also planet-friendly. (No fossil fuel is spent transporting these goods across state lines.)

An Authentic Thanksgiving
In many ways, a locavore Thanksgiving is a return to the holiday’s inspiration: the historic 1621 meal shared between the Mayflower’s Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. That feast was a celebration of the native bounty and included a pumpkin and Indian corn harvest, and just-caught seafood (cod, clams and eel), with roasted venison and wild fowl (turkey, duck, goose) as the centerpiece.

There is no standard definition of “locavore.” It can be as close as one’s backyard or as far as 250 miles -- famed food writer Michael Pollan’s estimate of the distance an average-sized farm truck can run on one tank of gas. Some people follow what’s known as the “100-Mile Diet,” and suggests that an entire Thanksgiving meal can be created with close-to-home ingredients or a single special dish.

Preparing a locavore holiday does involve some advance planning. Deborah Eden Tull, author of The Natural Kitchen: Your Guide to the Sustainable Food Revolution, suggests visiting a farmers market a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving to see what’s in season. Involve your dinner guests too and ask what they’re growing in their gardens that could be part of the holiday menu.  “Taste and deliciousness will show just how good a local meal can be,” says Tull.

The No-stress Thanksgiving Table
“The spirit of Thanksgiving is a meal based on indigenous ingredients,” says Leda Meredith, author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. Consider tweaking a perennial favorite, like cranberry sauce, to show off a seasonal fruit that is grown nearby. Pear, apple or even chutney can be used in a relish to accompany the turkey instead.

Executive Chef Joseph Humphrey of Murray Circle, the restaurant at the Cavallo Point Lodge near San Francisco, tries to abide by the 100-mile rule in planning his farm-to-table seasonal menus. “Use what’s available to you, let yourself be inspired by what you see at farmers markets and keep it simple,” he says. Consider substituting overlooked vegetables like rutabagas and parsnips for potatoes, or use fruits like pears or quince as an alternative to the customary apple pie. (You can stick to the familiar technique of slicing the fruit thin and layering it with brown sugar.)

Find Your Local Sources Online

Take advantage of a resource the Pilgrims didn’t have to plan your homegrown Thanksgiving: the Internet. lets users enter their zip code to find local family farms, food co-ops, farmers markets and butcher stores that can provide a free-range turkey. is also invaluable for locating key ingredients. The site has links to CSAs in every state that allow individuals to pledge their support to a farm for a monthly fee in exchange for a share of its output during growing season.

“It comes down to working with the best product you can because it tastes better,” says Humphrey. And nothing tastes as good as something that came out of the ground that morning and appeared on your Thanksgiving table in the afternoon.

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