Miles simply don’t matter when I think about how far I’d travel for a helping of my mother’s Thanksgiving mashed potatoes—a butter-and-chive-topped cloud of creamy Yukon golds. She brings them home every autumn in a crusty bushel basket from the farm down the lane. Truth be told, I travel a fair distance for that dish every year—a sweaty 258 miles in the car, usually with two howling cats—which means those spuds arrive at my family’s Thanksgiving table far fresher than I do.
To eat local is to be green, yes, but my mother is no tree hugger. She isn’t considering the carbon footprint of our holiday feast when she heads down dirt roads to pick up beets and eggs and homemade bread to cube and dry for stuffing. For her, eating locally is not about conserving fossil fuels. It’s about how no store-bought potato can match the delicate flavor of the fingerlings raised just a few miles outside of town. It’s about being on first-name basis with the farmer, the guy with dirt still under his fingernails, who sells her our Thanksgiving turkey. It’s about knowing exactly where all the ingredients for her recipes come from—a comfort in this era of shelf-stable Stovetop stuffing and Butterball turkeys raised on mega-farms in the middle of who-knows-where.
We have it easy in the North. The wealth of small farms here makes it simple for us to get good food, fresh food, close to home, and to infuse our lives with the richness of the region’s bounty. We understand the concept of agri-culture, because it is our collective culture. And because our heritage is based on living close to the land, what better time than Thanksgiving—a holiday all about tradition—to consider the impact of our consumer choices and celebrate what our corner of the Earth has to offer?
Helping myself to my mother’s mashed potatoes—and getting to spend time with my family—is more than worth the drive every Thanksgiving. But miles matter, especially when it comes to the food we put on our tables. Read on, then, for a collection of simple, traditional side dishes all based heavily on Northern Michigan goods. The preparation starts at your local market or farm, which, with so many farms Up North, requires just a quick trip down the road. That’s something to be thankful for.
Five Thanksgiving Sides with Local Flavor (click on each for recipe)
Light and moist, these biscuits get their tang from a healthy shot of buttermilk. Best served warm with a daub of local honey or spice-infused pumpkin butter
This dish is rustic autumn beauty at its best, and it infuses the kitchen with a savory, earthy-sweet scent.
Wild rice has long been a staple for Native Americans living in the Northern Great Lakes. Dried cherries and morels add an unexpected but delish Michigan twist.
The mellow ruby hue of these marinated beets is lovely at a festive Thanksgiving table. Make this dish a day ahead to let the flavors meld.
Excellent on meat and poultry, this chutney has a pleasant kick. Recipe yields about 16 ounces, though it can be easily doubled for canning.
The ultimate resource for finding Northwest Michigan goods is Taste the Local Difference (LOCALDIFFERENCE.ORG), a database run by Traverse City–based Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI.ORG). Log on to search for farms by county; you can also look for U-Picks, CSAs, wineries, farmers markets and retail operations like bakeries and delis. Below are a few of the farms we used in making our recipes, listed by ingredient; we also included our favorite Up North turkey farm, which locals know as the place to get a Thanksgiving gobbler.
Shetler Family Dairy, 5436 Tyler Rd. SE, Kalkaska 231-258-8216, shetlermilk.com
Sleeping Bear Farms, 971 S. Pioneer Rd., Beulah 888-912-0017, sleepingbearfarms.com
Apples, apple cider
Friske’s Orchards, 10743 N. U.S. 31, Atwood 888-968-3554, friske.com
Biehl’s Fresh Dressed Turkeys, 6128 U.S. 131, Mancelona 231-587-9580