by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
I’ve heard it said that Thanksgiving is loosing it’s value as a holiday. In retail stores, it’s smashed between the ram sacked clearance isles of Halloween candy, unworn costumes and the new glitter of Christmas items that sweep the shopping centers seemingly overnight. But like most things in the retail world, the displays do not represent real life. Family’s still gather each November to enjoy each others company. Grandma’s cranberry sauce recipe makes its way from the sticky pages of an overused cookbook. And while this holiday has added new traditions and familiarity, like football games, elaborate parades, and the arrival of St. Nick… Thanksgiving is still here. Even if the mega-center of discount prices only feels it warrants a small end cap with a porcelain turkey and some corn shaped candles.
This year, Thanksgiving means something very different at Iron Oak Farm. It’s always been a time to reflect and be thankful for all that we have. Specific gratitude changes from year to year, but the things we always cherish revolve around ideas of family, friends, good health and of course…the meal.
But this year, our Thanksgiving meal represents more than comfort food and turkey coma. This year, more than ever, I realize why this holiday was established. Why Mr. Lincoln deemed it note worthy in a year filled with days. Why the harvest was so important to those early settlers. It is the celebration of a years worth of work, of life and sustainability. Of months of planting, growing and gathering a winters worth of sustenance.
We are trying our very best to create a Thanksgiving completely home grown on our farm. With the exceptions of sugar, flour and some spices like cinnamon, everything will be provided via the hands and labors of Iron Oak Farm. From the eggs, pumpkin and cream that make the custard filling in the pumpkin pie, to the butter and milk that goes into the crust. We still have maple syrup from our sap this spring, so I may try to use that as a sweetener for things like the sweet potato casserole.
There are some obstacles still up for debate, things like the cranberry sauce. We can’t grow cranberries, but can Thanksgiving go on without them? It’s tough to say, but we’re going to try.
The highlight of our feast will of course be our own Heritage Black Spanish Turkey. This is the first year that we’ve raised our own turkeys and I must say, I may never go back. They are a beautiful addition to our farm and a joy to keep. While the processing part is going to be hard, I know they lived a great life, and will be treated with respect till the end.
I won’t lie, I’m nervous about cooking the turkey this year. I’ve cooked turkeys before, but never a heritage breed that we’ve raised ourselves. I have built this moment up to such high expectations both for myself, and for those who will sit around the table this year. I’ve ranted and raved about the supposed juiciness and flavor of these archaic birds. I’ve defended our decision to raise turkeys to questioning friends that think we’re crazy. But most of all, (and this may seem weird) I owe it to the turkey. I need to honor these birds that have provided us with food and sustenance. This year, more than ever, the popular phrase “Farm to Table” strikes daggers into my moral and ethical beliefs. I’m proud of what we’ve done. But it’s hard and at times, unsettling.
We process tomorrow and I’ve been weepy all day. Life is sustained by death and there is so much sacrifice that goes into being. This year, we have much to be grateful for.
So on the 22nd of this month, as we gather around the table, I already know that we will raise our glasses in a toast to these beautiful birds that we’ve enjoyed so much.
To honor this holiday of gratitude and plenitude each of my posts in November will be related to the significance of the turkey in our American culture, the history, the breeds, and best of all, the most delicious ways to prepare these magnificent birds. I welcome you to share recipes, cooking tips, traditions and things you are thankful for.