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Make Thanksgiving taste like home with homegrown touches

Corn bread made with Weisenberger Mill plain corn meal can be the main ingredient for Thanksgiving dressing.
Corn bread made with Weisenberger Mill plain corn meal can be the main ingredient for Thanksgiving dressing. palcala@herald-leader.com

Thanksgiving is the ultimate homecoming meal, and everybody has their family favorites, items without which it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving. For some people, that might mean oyster stuffing. For me, it’s corn bread dressing, heavy on the sage.

But Thanksgiving is a great time to localize everything from the drinks to the desserts because it gives all of your guests a taste of Kentucky. Most of these items are available at local stores, including Good Foods Co-op, Kroger and Liquor Barn, or at Lexington Farmers Market. Most producers have websites where you can place orders, too.

Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:

Drinks

This is easy because you have Kentucky bourbon, wine and craft beer available to serve (check out West Sixth Brewing’s Christmas Ale to get you in the spirit).

For a nice local cocktail, pick up a jar of Mrs. Toad’s Ambrosia Conserve, available at Threetoadsfarm.com; add a teaspoon to a shot of bourbon, and you have a terrific old-fashioned.

For those looking for a non-alcoholic treat, try Evans Orchard apple cider, made from locally grown apples, or eggnog from JD Country Milk in Russellville, available at Good Foods.

Appetizers

Boone Creek Creamery, 2416 Palumbo Drive, has this covered.

“We sell lots of cheese for Thanksgiving,” cheesemaker Ed Puterbaugh said. A little of his Kentucky Derby, a cheddar made with bourbon, on a good cracker would be nice.

For something really special, Puterbaugh suggested Scandinavian bread cheese.

“That is the funnest cheese,” he said. It can go sweet or savory, he said.

Cut the cheese into cubes, put them on crostini, pop them in the microwave or in the oven just enough to get melty, and add a dab of pepper jelly.

“That’s what we like,” Puterbaugh said.

Side dishes

This is where local farmers really shine. You can buy potatoes, yams, butternut squash, winter greens, broccoli, turnips, celery, onion, cauliflower, cabbage, watermelon radishes (pink on the inside), carrots, peppers, beets and more — probably even fresh greens and hothouse tomatoes for a salad — from local farmers.

Try roasting a pan of beautiful winter root vegetables in the oven with a little olive oil and sea salt. The flavors caramelize and give you a lovely, simple side dish that almost anyone can eat.

At Lexington Farmers Market, downtown at Cheapside on Saturdays, you might even find some green tomatoes for fried green tomatoes, which make a wonderful side dish to offset all the rich savory ones. (I know this doesn’t sound like a traditional Thanksgiving dish, but if you’re lucky enough to find green tomatoes, they will be a big hit. Trust me on this.)

Dressing or stuffing

Yes, you can buy packaged stuffing mixes that are fine. But with a little more effort, you can make great dressing that really tastes like home.

Start with a good cornmeal, such as Weisenberger Mill, or use its corn bread mix and make a big enough batch that you can eat a little and still have enough left for dressing (usually two 8- by 8-inch pans.) After the bread has cooled, put it in a plastic bag and break it into crumbles.

Make the crumbled corn bread your base and add local ingredients such as onions and celery, eggs, poultry seasoning and sage. Add melted butter and chicken or turkey stock (you can get local stock at Good Foods Co-op or make your own), and bake.

Herb’n Renewal (Herbnrenewal.com) has Rub’n Season Poultry seasoning without sage, but you can buy dried sage to add if you’d like. If you’re going for more of a Southwestern flavor, they have Herb’n Cowboy with just enough chipotle. Or try their Cajun Wing’n Season for a deep-fried turkey.

Like sausage in your dressing? Local sausage can have a flavor like nothing else. Check out the University of Kentucky butcher shop in the basement of the College of Agriculture building, 325 Cooper Drive. Or check out Cooper Bros. Gourmet Meats, 4379 Old Harrodsburg Road, or Critchfield Meats, 2220 Nicholasville Road.

For something a little different, try stuffing made with Sweetgrass Cherry Home Companion granola, available at Sweetgrassgranola.com, the farmers market and Good Foods. The recipe is on the Sweetgrass website..

The main event

The Herb’n Renewal seasonings would go great with a local bird, wouldn’t they? You can get a humanely raised local turkey (or duck and chicken if you’re going for turducken) at Good Foods Co-op on Southland Drive or at Marksbury Farm, Marksburyfarm.com/holiday and 7907 Nicholasville Road near Lancaster.

You also can buy directly from Elmwood Stock Farm, which raises heritage breeds as well as standard broad-breasted turkeys, all organic and free-range. Call (859) 621-0755 or find them at the Lexington Farmers Market.

Big finish

Dessert might be the easiest to localize – pumpkins, apples and pears, pecans, sorghum and sweet potatoes are all readily available to make traditional pies and cobblers. And if you don’t feel like baking, there are terrific bakeries around with lots of options, especially if you order ahead of time.

Or you can buy a pie and dress it up with local ice cream from Crank & Boom, available at Good Foods Co-op.

For a decadent touch, try Ward’s Bourbon Chocolatier Sauce, made in Lexington. It’s delicious on fruit, cakes, pies, even in coffee.

And speaking of coffee, there are quite a few local options, including Caffe Marco, Magic Beans, Shuffle Bean and Lexington Coffee & Tea.

Cranberry relish

A few years ago, one of my co-workers decided that her family would do an “all local” Thanksgiving. The only sticking point: cranberries. You just aren’t going to find local Kentucky cranberries.

So if you’re wedded to cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving (and who isn’t?) how about putting in a nice touch with local apples?

My family loves this fresh cranberry relish made of ground-up whole cranberries, apples, oranges and nuts. My mother uses my late grandmother’s old-fashioned counter-top grinder to make it, but I’ve done it in a food processor.

2 cups fresh washed cranberries

2 apples, cored and cut into slices (I like tart ones, but use what you like)

1 large whole seedless orange, with the peel left on, cut into sections

1 to 2 cups sugar (sugar substitute such as Truvia will work)

Nuts to taste (optional)

Grind or process the cranberries, apple slices and orange sections together until they are very small chunks, well mixed. Add sugar a little at a time until it’s about as sweet as you want it. Add nuts if desired. Refrigerate and serve.

Another possibility: add some fresh ginger. Elmwood Farm has beautiful ginger this year.

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