A Western Slope Thanksgiving

Jeanne McGovern
Aspen Times, November 21, 2003


ThanksgivingThanksgiving is just around the corner and you’re in charge of preparing the annual feast for family and friends. Your options are: Cook a traditional meal, buy a ready-made banquet, create your own signature spread, or think like the Pilgrims and live off the land.
If your choice is the latter, prepare to be challenged. But, say those who live by the creed of subsistence farming, the rewards are plenty.
“Nothing is special anymore when it comes to food. If we can afford it, we can buy it,” says Brook LeVan, director of Sustainable Settings, a nonprofit organization whose 244-acre Carbondale ranch serves as an exercise in self-sufficiency. “But there’s something special about a feast that you’ve worked hard to create. It is a true celebration.”
Plus, who doesn’t prefer the taste of freshly picked food over produce that’s been pumped full of chemicals, wrapped in plastic and shipped thousands of miles to your dining room table?
With that in mind, we decided to create a holiday feast of locally grown products. It wasn’t easy. But it promises to be one heck of a celebration come Nov. 27.
Food for thought
Let’s begin with the bird, the centerpiece of any traditional Thanksgiving dinner. According to LocalHarvest, a nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets and other local food sources, there are no commercial turkeyfarms in the Roaring Fork Valley; the nearest turkey grower they list is in Durango. With some advance planning, though, you can contract with a local farmer to raise a turkey for you, or you can hunt your own bird (not this year, though — turkey season ended Oct. 5).

Still, turkey is a tough one. “Deer and elk are more likely. Trout would probably be served,” says LeVan of our valley’s native meats.
In fact, a feast of fish and deer is perhaps the most traditional Thanksgiving dinner of all. Eel, cod, lobster, oyster, and clam were all abundant at Miles Standish’s original Thanksgiving celebration. And while game birds (ducks, pheasants, pigeons, geese) were on the menu, the focal point of the feast was not fowl at all. It was venison, a gift from the skilled Wampanoag hunters.
When it comes to side dishes — mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cornbread stuffing, etc. — for your homegrown holiday repast, the choices are many. The same holds true for dessert.
“As far as what we can grow in the valley, there’s potatoes, onions, garlic, squash, green beans, pumpkin, apples, berries,” says LeVan, rattling off a list of easily grown fruits and vegetables.
Still, none of these are marketed commercially so you’ll have to be resourceful. You can either start your own garden or, like generations past, “learn to barter and network,” says LeVan, adding that this is also the best way to track down local dairy products, fresh eggs, raw sugar and the like.
Six89 chef-owner Mark Fischer agrees. “It’s a give-and-take relationship. You can’t always pick up a phone book to find these people. Sometimes they have to find you.”
If you’re not willing to wait for your phone to ring, there’s plenty of fresh food just over McClure Pass in Delta County and farther west in the Grand Valley. Potatoes, squash, green beans, carrots, pumpkins, apples and more can be found in farming towns like Paonia and Hotchkiss. (A few farms will even let you pick your own produce.) Peaches, cherries and other berries are the pick from Palisade to Grand Junction.
Be forewarned — the majority of farms shut down when the snow begins to fly. Of more than two dozen area “Colorado Farm Fresh” purveyors listed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, only a couple are still open — and the pickings are slim. Paonia’s Hillside Acres, for example, still has “a few” certified organic potatoes, onions and winter squash; Grand Junction’s DeVries Farm Market has a similar selection, plus a handful of apples.
Again, it’s wise to plan ahead. Either shop early or skip the drive altogether by storing products bought during the summer and fall at Aspen’s Saturday Farmer’s Market.
Topping it off
Now for the best part of any party: the drinks. And there are two excellent homegrown ways to imbibe.
First is cider. Remember those apples you picked for apple pie and applesauce? Press them for apple cider or ferment them for hard cider. You can also pick up pre-made cider from most apple farmers.
Second is wine. “Winemaking began on Colorado’s Western Slope more than a century ago,” notes Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. “With the advent of Prohibition, however, the early vineyards were uprooted and replaced with orchards. Modern vineyards featuring the world’s classic wine-grape varieties have been re-established … and once again the art of winemaking is flourishing in Colorado.”
This is especially true in the Palisade/Grand Junction area. More than a dozen vineyards are currently growing wine grapes there, three of which go on to crush, ferment, age and bottle their wine in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Aspen Valley Winery, owned and operated by the Leto family of Carbondale, produces an award-winning Merlot. Eva and Dan Baharav of Baharav Vineyards, also in Carbondale, create unfiltered, estate wine from Muscat, Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc grapes. Snowmass Creek Winery serves up Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Reisling.
So with that you have a Thanksgiving feast fit for a king. And not only is it created with locally grown foods, it answers Brook LeVan’s simple question: “What would you do if the City Market truck didn’t turn the corner when it got to Glenwood Springs?”
Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com