That Thanksgiving is the most New England of American holidays is surely apparent in the local foods provided for the family table by New Hampshire’s farmers. Plan first to order your turkey because local flocks are limited. Free of hormones and antibiotics, most are pastured and fed high-protein grains.
As Raymond Garcia of Littleton’s Cabin View Farm (444-0248) says, “We do not beef up our feed with shredded newspaper and sawdust as many commercial growers do.” Because of its juiciness and large breast, the most popular turkey grown is a giant white turkey that goes by a variety of more formal names and averages 18-25 pounds in weight.
Monique Labrecque, of Hermit Brook Farm in Sanbornton (286-4121), one of the largest growers in the state, grows 500 turkeys and rotates her pastures every few days. Joe Morette of Henniker Saw Farm (428-3751) started growing turkeys as a way of doing something with his boys. Today he raises more than 250 birds, which he feeds “a modest amount of beer that keeps my birds moist while they bake.” He adds, “I get the greatest high of the year when I think of that one moment of the day when families are together enjoying my turkeys.”
Because of their small size and relative cost, heritage turkeys are not as popular with consumers as the white birds. From the farmer’s standpoint feeding is expensive, especially when their minimal weight gain is considered and they are difficult to raise. Similar to a wild bird, they tend to fly away unless their wings are clipped — a job not easy to perform. Nonetheless, there are always customers who feel the heritage breeds have more flavor than the white and are willing to pay the extra price for them.
Sally Eaton of Acworth Village Gardens (835-7986) says her Royal Palms range around 10 pounds and for those who say they are not as moist as a plumper turkey, she responds by suggesting the cook bake them covered, basting regularly in apple cider.
Suzanne LeBlanc of Autumn Harvest Farm and Quilt Studio in Grafton (632-9144, autumnharvestfarm.com) is raising 50 birds and because of the limited number suggests ordering ahead.
On the Seacoast there is new farm raising Narragansett and Bronze turkeys — McClary Hill Farm in Epson (738-4717, mcclaryhillfarm.com).
And finally Joan Schroeder of South Newbury, who raises white turkeys, suggests for those who are not turkey lovers to try her frozen capons.
Preparing Your Feast
To cook his turkey, Ron McPhall of Seasons Restaurant & Marketplace in Enfield (632-7256, www.seasonsmarketplace.com) begins his turkey preparation the day before Thanksgiving by putting it in a brine. For a 20-pound turkey he brings to a boil 8 quarts of water; adds 2 cups Kosher salt; 2 cups maple syrup; 2 bunches fresh thyme; 5 bay leaves; 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed, and 3 tablespoons black peppercorns. He stirs the mixture until the salt is dissolved. He then cools down the brine before adding the turkey and refrigerates it overnight, discarding the solution after brining is complete. He will prepare the brined the turkey for you by special order.
For the first course, roast a few red peppers until they are slightly charred; core and slice them after they cool; thinly slice mushrooms and stalks of fresh fennel; serve in a vinaigrette made with one part red wine vinegar, a dash of sherry vinegar, three parts good quality olive oil, crushed garlic clove, a dash of Dijon-style mustard and salt and pepper. A few chopped black olives and parsley complete the dish.
Make an all-purpose stuffing (see recipe on p. 73). Add cooked coarsely chopped kale and a fresh pork sausage for depth of color and texture. Apples with a touch of apple cider give a moist and sweet flavor. Check out local farm stands (always call first; many may not still be open) for freshly dug potatoes and make a mashed potato pie with fresh sieved ricotta cheese and eggs, and bake in a pan lined with toasted bread crumbs. Or mash some sweet potatoes with maple syrup and a dash of canned chipotle pepper in sauce for spice. Braise leeks in chicken broth and serve with some of the broth. Nap the dish with a mustard-mayonnaise mixture and top with a few capers. Another fall Thanksgiving specialty is finely shredded Brussels sprouts sautéed in farm butter with some toasted pecan pieces or lightly brown cubes of North County smoked ham and toss in blanched baby Brussels sprouts.
Layer thinly sliced rutabaga and potatoes in a heavy oven proof pan adding salt, pepper, a few dabs of butter and fresh thyme leaves between each layer. Cover in foil and bake in a 425 oven for about 30 minutes. Weighing them down with a heavy pan makes the dish easier to slice into wedges. Slice parsnips, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in moderate oven until soft. Toss with fresh chopped rosemary leaves before serving. Root Vegetable Pancakes are a treat that children can happily eat with their fingers.
For the traditional cranberry condiment, Diane Souther of Concord’s Apple Hill Farm (224-8862, www.applehillfarmnh.com) takes a cue from the ever-present orange and cranberry relish and uses apples from her orchard instead of cranberries to make an uncooked Apple Cranberry Relish, adding strawberry or raspberry preserves as the sweetener. She suggests making the condiment the day before to allow the flavors to develop. Roasted Pumpkin Baking Powder biscuits (see recipe below), made just before dinner and served fresh and hot with a fresh butter, complete the main course.
For dessert serve the traditional apple pie with local apples. Adding raisins soaked in bourbon overnight and chopped pecans to the apples make for a richer dessert. Since Thanksgiving ignores calorie quotas, don’t forget to serve a creamy sugar pumpkin pie made with local cream, brown sugar, and molasses.
Shaker Bread Stuffing
1 pound country white bread, torn into coarse pieces
1 cup boiling water
10 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into tablespoons
1 cup coarsely chopped onions
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put bread in medium sized bowl. Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in boiling water and pour over bread. With a fork gently stir to distribute the water and let set until bread has absorbed all the water. Sauté onions until soft over low heat in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add onions, egg and seasonings to the bread. Toss thoroughly. Place in an 8-cup oven-proof bowl and bake until brown on top, about 30 minutes. Yield: 8-10 servings
Roasted Pumpkin Baking Powder Biscuits
1 cup roasted sugar pumpkin (save unused portion to mix with cream, stock and seasonings to make soup or use for pumpkin pie)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk, approximately
flour for pastry board
Preheat oven to 375. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds. Place cut side down on parchment paper on baking sheet. Add one cup of water. Roast pumpkin for 45-60 minutes until very soft. The skin will begin to collapse. Let cool and scoop out the meat from the shell. Mash it thoroughly by hand or put it in the food processor to purée. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a food processor or with your fingers gently blend the butter and flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Mix in pumpkin and enough milk to make a dough that holds together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Place dough onto a lightly floured board and roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter to shape the biscuits and place on an ungreased or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. Yields 12.
Root Vegetable Fritters
Yield: 12 fritters
1/2 pound parsnips (one large root), peeled and grated
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 pound parsnips (one large root), peeled and grated
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Steam the vegetables in water with salt and sugar until tender. Drain liquid and dry out vegetables over a low heat being careful not to scorch them. With a fork mix vegetables with remaining ingredients and lightly pack 1-2 tablespoons of mixture together making 12 two-inch cakes. In a fry pan heat grape seed or peanut oil until a bit of flour spatters. Fry cakes on each side until golden, being careful not to crowd the pan.
Helen Brody, a food features writer for newspapers and magazines, is the author most recently of “New Hampshire: From Farm to Kitchen,” as well as the award-winning “Cooking with Fire: Two Hundred Years of Recipes and Foodlore for Today’s Cooks.RESOURCES FOR TURKEYS
Cabin View Farm, Littleton
Hermit Brook Farm, Sanbornton
Henniker Saw Farm, Henniker
Acworth Village Gardens
Autumn Harvest Farm, Grafton
McClary Hill Farm, Epson
Apple Hill Farm, Concord
A full list of poultry farms in the state can be found at www.agriculture.nh.gov. Although the turkeys are not locally grown, www.localharvest.org lists farms throughout the country that ship fresh and frozen heritage breed turkeys.
Food for Thought
Tips for Holiday Baking
Pies are essential for a proper feast. By Master Baker Stephen James
It’s time to preheat the oven and get those holiday recipes out — old family favorites such as the tourtiere (Christmas pork pie), traditional regional desserts like Indian pudding or New England gingerbread, and don’t forget New Hampshire’s state fruit of the vine, the popular pumpkin. For holiday pumpkin pies, the small sugar pumpkin is desirable over the larger field pumpkins. But I have no complaints in using a good quality canned pumpkin. Whether using fresh roasted pumpkin purée or canned, there is a taste difference but I can’t say whether it’s good or a bad difference, just different.
However, I do believe that when using fresh pumpkin roasted and puréed the same day and used for pie baking, you have a good chance of producing pies that have cracks in the custard after baking.
Pumpkin pie is a pumpkin-based custard pie flavored with pumpkin spice and served with lightly whipped cream. Dressing things up a little with a touch of maple syrup drizzled over the top of the pie is a nice touch in keeping with the region. I’ve also become accustomed to serving a big slice of pumpkin pie with candied pumpkin seeds (papitas) sprinkled over the top of the whipped cream. It gives the dessert a nice crunch and texture that you can certainly appreciate knowing that pumpkin seeds are on the World’s Healthiest Foods list.
Most pumpkin pie spice ingredients can range from three ingredients to six, depending on your taste preference. For example, the combination I like to use is a ratio of 6 tablespoons of cinnamon mixed with 3 tablespoons ginger and 3 tablespoons nutmeg. Other spices to consider adding are mace, cloves and allspice.
This is a good mixture to add, not having to measure out all ingredients separately on baking day. A little pumpkin spice used in the lightly sweetened whipped cream can be a good way to increase flavor as well.
The candied pumpkin seeds are made by mixing the seeds with a little spritz of water and tossing with a little granulated sugar and then roasting on a parchment-lined sheet pan in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes. These can be made up to three days ahead.
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine