The leaves have turned, they days are getting shorter, the shade is chilly but the sun still hot. The air is a crisp crunchy blue, no longer sodden with humidity. It's a season-change and we all know it, no matter how disconnected we are from the outdoors. Farmers react to it and respond. "First frost" means something out there in the fields and the peppers had better be in by the first freeze or they'll turn to mush. Even from our sheltered inside-lives we can look out the kitchen window and know that something's in the air. And shopping at the farmer's market is different too. Pumpkins, winter squash, greens, and sweet potatoes? Is something starting to look familiar? Is it beginning to feel a bit like Thanksgiving?
Of course, like most of our holidays, the true origin of Thanksgiving is all but lost. I won't even delve into this, because I think we all know what we've lost in the translation of the years. But maybe it did all start with an act of kindness, sharing, of generosity. For the sake of romance, let's just run with that. And Thanksgiving is something really special. It's a day of true American culture, one of the only. All countries who have gained independence from another have an Independence Day, and most of our other holidays are strange consumer-oriented versions of religious or pagan celebrations. But Thanksgiving, although similarly celebrated in cultures and communities over the world in the form of autumn/harvest-festivals, is all ours. And that is important for a society. America is a big place, with lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds. It's such a large country that it almost doesn't make sense; a child that lives in countries all over the world, raised by many parents and is now a hulking giant, unsure of what its beliefs are and what background to carry.
I realized the other day (again and again, for some reason I think about this a lot) how young our country is. We really want that deep-rooted culture, that sense of belonging and place. That's what Community is all about. When you read articles about "true southern food", about the barbecue joints and the fried chicken, it's not really about the pork or the chicken, it's about us. It gives us that comforting sense of belonging and familiarity. If it was an article truly about the pork or the chicken, it would be a story of terror and sadness- glimpses of the small hog farmer leaving the land because they can no longer afford to keep it, factory-farmed meat, dangerous slaughterhouses, trucks shipping animals across the country and back. But seriously, who wants to hear that? Let's talk about the sauce, and how it's different from their sauce, how our pork is smoked right, how ours is pulled right, how ours is ours. It's our culture and it's something to be proud of.
O and it is. Thanksgiving, our American holiday, is something to be proud of. It is the one day of the year where the whole point is family, friends, food, and seasonality. We eat traditional autumn foods- heavy and comforting, preparing ourselves for the dark cold road of Winter to come. We join together in the kitchen and give thanks for the folks around us, and the bounty of food that the earth has given us. And some of us keep an eye (or two) on the football score....whatever makes you happy.
The nice thing about our culture is that we have not really strayed so far from the beaten path. For the first couple hundred years of our young and fast-growing country, we really did have those things we are still proud of. The hogs were raised by neighbors, and the chicken fried by grandmothers. The templates are still there- the sweet potato casserole, the roasted turkey, the cranberry sauce (a little northern, but they're still seasonal). We don't have to purchase these things from the grocery store because they aren't exotic- they belong to us, and to the land around us. All we have to do is step in and reclaim it, buy food from our neighbors, support our community, and make our culture thrive. Then we'll really have something to give Thanks about.
Stop by the Main Street Farmer's Market next Wednesday the 16th, or the special Thanksgiving date Tuesday the 22nd and pick up your Thanksgiving meal. Look for seasonal recipe ideas on all the farmer's booths, and don't forget to try something new! (like turnips).