Thanksgivings for a bountiful harvest usually are exhibited in a representative feast while the larder is fully packed. Imagine a local economy of remote settlers relieved that the crop was successful, the game in the forest is plentiful and life will be forgiving. Today, our worldwide distribution system precludes any survivalist worries. A traditional North American spread, including our efforts from the local garden, is an understandable way to manifest our contemporary Thanksgiving holiday.
The sit-down dinner is started with a big salad. Growing for simple leaf harvest is a grand way to get abundance from any gardening effort. A basic salad recipe is started with a foundation of lettuces. Loose-leaf lettuce comes in many colors, textures, shapes and flavors. When I plant lettuce, a few extra seeds are dropped into the soil, emulating Mother Nature’s growing methods. The necessary thinning then provides the first harvest, those high-dollar gourmet baby greens. When the lettuce plants mature, depending on convenience and growing space, individual leaves versus full heads are harvested.
Complimenting the simple leaves of lettuce are a large group of plants, too numerous to mention by variety names, I categorize as salad herbs. The Asian mustards range from the mild flavored, frilly mizuna family to sharp tasting, dense spoon-leafed tatsoi. Don’t worry, the spicy sharpness of individual pieces will be deferred to the broader taste when added to the bowl. Tangy sorrel is a wake-up call ripped as leaves or blended into a dressing. Dandelion greens’ bitter taste produces saliva to aid digestion and brings a complex depth of flavor to a salad of greens. Garden fresh parsley has an essence easily overlooked when merely used as a garnish. Kale and collard greens commit nutritional and texture aspects that the lighter greens lack.
Beyond the leaf, we can use many items from our garden for the big salad. Red radishes colorizing the verdant greenness is a short cut to holiday decorating. The tops of the radish plant are edible and are included with the mustard family of flavors. Diced kohlrabi bulbs add a sweet crunchiness that leaves lack. Think of the bragging rights when such an obscure vegetable is proffered to your guests. Cherry tomatoes of all sizes, colors and shapes grow well at this time of year depending on the first frost dates. The yellow pear will definitely elicit comments, as will the black and purple cherry tomato. The productivity of green scallion onions can be taken full advantage of, using the whole vertical inclination of the plant.
The pilgrims depended on local. We don’t, but probably should. Be thankful and eat well, my friends!