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My first organic Thanksgiving

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I love to cook. Especially Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, which I have made for the past five years.

This year I would like to see if I can make a 100% organic Thanksgiving dinner from the turkey and stuffing to the pies and wine.

I will need your help with tips, tricks and recommendations on where to locate items that fit the bill. Also any suggestions you have (recipes and such) are greatly appreciated.

My local Shaw's supermarket has a Natural Food Section, and I am close to a Trader Joe's.

My menu (tentative) is:

Fresh Fruit Cup
Roast Turkey
Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy
Roasted Carrots
Lemon-Pepper String Beans
Corn
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Some kind of dinner roll/bread
Butter
Cranberry Sauce

Dessert- Apple Pie, Chocolate dessert of some kind, cookies

Wines, Red, white, and a sparkling one.

I am flexible on some of these things because not sure if I will find them.

I may be able to order an organic turkey locally...

Have seen organic chicken stock, veggies in the stores...

Not sure where I will get organic sausage...and I wonder if a natural sausage such as Shaw's Wild Harvest brand is same as organic?

Cornstarch...Sugar....Spices.... Any especially good brands?

Pie Crust--- Yikes, not sure if "Crisco" is what I should be using....or what I can do to substitute or if I need to make a crisp instead... Although guests will be disappointed if they don't get pie... If my mother-in-law brings her famous apple pie I won't ban it... But I want to do something organic as well.

Open to your thoughts. Thanks!

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  1. Re: the sausage, if it's not labeled organic, it's not organic. That said, if having sausage in your stuffing is important and you can't source organic sausage, go with what looks best to you.

    Do you have access to Whole Foods or a full-service (meat and produce) natural-foods market? If so, you should be able to find Spectrum Organics brand shortening, organic flour and baking products, spices, and perhaps some organic meat options. TJ's carries organic dairy products and eggs, plus organic sugar for much cheaper.

    Organic sugars are not as refined as regular granulated and brown sugars, and don't behave quite the same in some applications. They'll be fine for apple pie and most simple cake and cookie recipes, though.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      I would go to Trader Joe's and look around.. you never know what you might find that's organic and fits in with your menu.

      Also, if you're open to a slightly different dish- instead of baked sweet potatoes and roasted carrots.. combine the two and roast with cubed butternut squash, beets, turnips and onions. My aunt makes this all the time for Thanksgiving and it's always the first thing to go. Even better, you can usually find the carrots, butternut, and turnips precut (oragnic) around Thanksgiving time.

    2. If the Shaws you refer to is in New England, I didn't see any listing re "organic." The web site mentions "all natural" but that actually has no specific meaning.

      I'm not exactly sure where you live but I would try looking for a food co-op. They tend to have more organic stuff and you can often purchase in bulk, including spices. I really like my co-op for spices because I can always be sure of getting really fresh stuff. Are any of these places near you?
      http://www.coopfoodstore.com/
      http://www.servenewengland.org/foodcoop/

      For general ingrediants, you may be able to find some stuff at local farmer's market. Things like squash, pumpkin, apples, onions all can be purchased now and stored until Thanksgiving. As far as a turkey is concerned, try a local farmer---you may be able to find one who hasn't sold all their turkeys. Also check with your local Slow Food group---ours used to organize turkey sales of heritage birds and there was usually a left over or two.

      Sausage isn't that hard to make, especially since you need bulk for stuffing---grind pork, add spices. Take a look on the web for recipes.

      But mostly don't get so caught up that it stops being fun.

      1. Cornstarch I haven't seen organic, but you can use the organic cane sugar that is evaporated cane juice in most desserts. TJs has it, as does Whole Foods. Spices - we have a organic chain on the West coast, but I would check out Whole Foods again if you have one close.

        Pie crust. Organic butter and Spectrum shortening if you don't like an all butter crust. Spectrum is organic I believe. I just make all-butter crusts because I like the flavor. For chocolate, Dagoba seems readily available and is decent organic chocolate and cocoa.

        1. At my Farmer's market they have organic Turkeys and sausage. Do you have one nearby? I'd go for organic butter for the pie crust and just calculate for shrinkage.

          1. Green and black makes organic chocolate. I've never used it for baking, but it does make some really fine eating.

            I've used Earth Balance organic spread for making pie crusts, and I've found I get a more tender crust if I use a pastry flour over a regular flour. My local coop has organic whole wheat pastry flour in the bulk section and I splurge on that when I'm baking to impress.

            You might also want to check with your local growers. Depending on how much you are attached to "organic" certification, a lot of local growers do have organic operations, but aren't certified because it costs so much more.

            I'd also second checking out your local food coop. Some of our local farmers volunteer at ours here in Albany and I've had some great conversations/advice from them about their products. Some of the store employees also know the local products really well, as well.

            1. I'm not sure where you live, but here in Western New York (not known for a plethora of organic sources, no WF, no TJ) I was able to find a local farm with fresh ("alive on Tuesday!") organic turkeys and another with homemade sausage. It takes a little leg work, but there are probably a lot of small farmers around you that have these things.

              Also, something to consider in response to Caitlin's post (if it's not labeled organic, it's not organic) - many really small farms or specialty producers (like the farm where I got my turkey that ONLY sells heritage bourbon reds and Narragansetts) can't afford the costly USDA review to obtain the "organic" label. Many times they will be working towards this certification, and very willing to show you/explain to you the organic techniques they employ, though they can't produce the USDA label. The turkey place actually used techniques that would be considered "beyond organic" and meet criteria for their ALBC "heritage" label, though they haven't gone through the USDA organic process. Not sure if it matters to you to have food that's been specifically designated organic by the USDA, but if not, it might be worth your time to investigate these smaller (and often cheaper) sources, and help support your local farms, too!

              2 Replies
              1. re: bflocat

                Great response your second paragraph! Additionally, what I have seen at my local farm, is a sign which states very clearly that the animals are free range, no antibiotics are used, etc. Everything except the actual word Organic to let me know that what I am buying is organiclly raised.

                1. re: bflocat

                  I also absolutely agree with your second paragraph, bflocat. That is entirely true for many local farmers and sellers at farmers' markets. my sentence read, "Re: the sausage, if it's not labeled organic, it's not organic," and it was, indeed, in reference to Trish's question about the house brand sold by her large chain supermarket, which is a different story, and in that case it's a fact. Thanks for making an important point about local, independent purveyers.

                2. Thank you everyone for some very helpful and enlightening information about organic products. I can shop better and more wisely because of your advice.

                  I live in the Danbury area of Connecticut, and am not aware of any co-ops nearby, however my husband told me some kind of natural market is opening up in the former Italian-American Club Hall in Ridgefield so I will check it out.

                  My local Shaw's has a Wild Harvest section (three aisles plus several freezer cases) with natural and organic products. So I bought the dried herbs and spices I need: Salt, Pepper, Sage, Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Bay Leaves, Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon, Nutmeg. The brands are Red Monkey, Frontier Fair Trade, and Simply Organic.

                  To test the chocolate waters, I bought a couple bars of Equal Exchange organic very dark chocolate 71% cacao. I am going to make a chocolate cream pie this weekend and see how the flavor is. Thanks for the other chocolate recommendations.

                  I do believe there are local farms where I can order a good turkey, thanks for the tips about that.

                  On the CH wine board, folks have given me recommendations about wines, so that is helpful.

                  Since most of my meal revolves around fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs (plus dairy products), I will be making a trek to Trader Joe's this weekend and ask some questions so I can see what to expect there. Shaw's also has some organic produce, though not a lot.

                  Thank you also for those pie tips. I may switch to an all butter crust as that would probably be the most successful for me.

                  I'll be back to update where I stand as my shopping progresses.

                  Please continue to add any other tips and suggestions, they are most appreciated.

                  Trish

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                    "I live in the Danbury area of Connecticut, and am not aware of any co-ops nearby,"

                    http://www.coopdirectory.org/director...

                    do any of these work?

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      That's a great resource SoupKitten. Sadly, I live on the other side of the state from them. I'm not sure why there are no local coops in this area....but now with the economy so bad, maybe things will change.

                      1. re: TrishUntrapped

                        shoot. i was not sure of the geography, or where your household members might go on their way to work-- sorry about that. you might also look in the same resource under new york state, to see if you could find a co-op that would be closer. some co-ops are big and beautiful, some are tiny and cramped-- but they are fun to get to explore. anyway good luck & have fun.

                  2. i'd suggest checking w/ any local CSAs on the organic meats. i know our CSA offers chickens and now turkeys (for thanksgiving), to both members and non members. at $4.50/lb, it's NOT cheap (that's a $90 turkey!), but it's available. (my dh put his foot down and said NO $90 TURKEY.... but now i'm curious as to just what a $90 turkey tastes like... ;)

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mrsjenpeters

                      Yeah we get organic turkeys, but not certified, from our lamb guy up here in Alberta and they are 3.50/lb. They are so juicy and we've never had a bad one.

                      1. re: mrsjenpeters

                        i confess, we eat the $90 turkey and you know what, its GOOOOODDDD. Those heritage birds really do have more flavor. But I confess, I am fanatically about making sure nothing get wasted on that bird.

                        1. re: jenn

                          You can also make your own sausage (patties), which you can do in advance and freeze. That way you know the herbs and spices (since you listed 'em) will be organic. Keep a price list and let us know how much it runs you! I just got sticker shock from the Lobel's $75 10-person turkey. Yikes!

                          1. re: jenn

                            Agree, Jenn. Still thinking about the incredible stock I made with leftover heritage turkey.

                        2. A week and a half before Thanksgiving and this is where I stand:

                          I have all organic spices - everything from salt and pepper to thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, etc.... The brands I bought are Red Monkey and Simply Organic. They ranged in price from $1.50 to $2.99. So about $25 on spices and dried herbs.

                          I also bought organic: Granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, confectioner's sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, dark chocolate, raspberry preserves, and a can of organic pumpkin at Trader Joe's. I plan on making a chocolate cream pie (in a cookie crust), raspberry bars, and pumpkin bread. Prices ranged around $2.69 each for almost all the above.

                          Organic milk, heavy cream, half and half, and eggs are plentiful in my local supermarket so I will buy those as the date draws near.

                          I plan on making pepperoni cheese bread (my nephew's favorite).... I have the bread ingredients except for yeast... and I saw organic mozzarella at my local Shaw's so no problem there. I have had trouble finding organic pepperoni but I have a Plan B if I don't find it.

                          There are several brands of organic frozen pepperoni pizza on the market so I could buy a couple pizzas, take off the pepperoni for the breads...and cook the pizzas the night before Thanksgiving for my kids and the friends they are bringing home, for a snack.

                          My other problem is finding the organic canned cranberry sauce. I do not want to buy a case of it online, which would be one option....Trader Joe's and Shaw's don't have it...I still have a couple organic food stores to check out this week...

                          Wines - I called Chambers Street Wines in New York and a sommelier helped me choose an assortment. All together these cost $145 including shipping:

                          Knebel, Von Den Terrassen, 2007 Riesling
                          De Moor, Chablis, 2006, (Directed to open 30 minutes before drinking)
                          2 bottles of Rapet, Savigny Les Beaune, 2006, Burgundy (Directed to open 30 minutes to one hour before drinking)
                          Bossard-Thuaud, Muscadet sparkling white

                          After researching natural, free range, and no hormone/no antibiotic turkeys, I decided to bite the bullet and ordered an Eberly 's Organic Turkey, and I plan to brine it as suggested on the Eberly's Web site. At $5.49 a pound, it's really really expensive...but my curiosity won out and I have to try it...once anyway...

                          I am going to use a natural ground pork to make my own sausage for the stuffing.

                          I also bought 7th Generation brand napkins and paper towels, although I also use cloth napkins.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                            Trish, any reason you're searching for canned cranberry sauce as opposed to making your own with fresh organic cranberries? Is canned a "must-have" for your family?

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              Sadly, Caitlin, the canned sauce is a must.

                              Several years ago - the first time I served only my homemade cranberry sauce - I had a mutiny on my hands...all the guests wanted to know where the canned one was and did not want the homemade. Luckily I had a can I could open.

                              The next couple years I served both the canned (clear jell, they don't even like whole berry), as well as my homemade cranberry applesauce which I think is a real winner. But I was the only one eating it and it makes a huge amount, so a lot got wasted.

                              So now I reluctantly serve the canned. And everyone except me is thrilled.

                              The way I see it...the canned is just one tradition some people can't let go of.

                              I should note that it wasn't until the last maybe six years that Thanksgiving dinner has been at my home. It used to be a tradition at the grandparents', who have since passed away. I absolutely love cooking this meal.

                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                That is sad! I grew up with homemade, and can't imagine having canned! Several years ago, a woman who worked for me was over when I was cooking the cranberry sauce, and she was so bowled over by the scent of it that she demanded the recipe, made her first homemade cranberry sauce, and has never looked at a can again.

                                Good luck with your quest.

                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                  Caitlin,

                                  I have to agree, it is sad...but to be fair they really like the canned and it all disappears, so at least they eat it. I think this year, because we are having several college kids... I might make a small batch of cranberry applesauce for us. I know I like it...and they might too.

                                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                    I say make the homemade and continue to serve it alongside the canned jell kind. I grew up in a household that always served a can of the clear jell cranberry sauce - still in its ribbed, molded form! - at all major holidays and celebrations. When I took over the hostess hat, I made my own and served it beside the jell. For a few years, the homemade sat untouched (I froze the leftovers in small containers and used them throughout the year on sandwiches, etc), but eventually people started stepping away from the canned and moving towards my version. In the last few years, I've entirely done away with the jelled stuff and served my homemade cooked sauce alongside an amazing raw cranberry "relish". Even the kids load the relish onto their plates. Anyway, that's my conversion experience! I hope you find some converts too!

                                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                      what about getting a bag of organic cranberries, cooking them up for juice, adding the sugar, straining through a strainer and molding it in a recycled can? You'd have the ribs and everything!

                                      I grew up with the ribbed molded and liked it fine but have learned to love the homemade. My suggestion is only half in jest---my oldest pup makes the cranberry sauce every year and it gets pretty darn solid. Wouldn't be at all difficult to make your own "canned" version.

                            2. Some good news for me. I was in Balducci's in Ridgefield, CT today and saw the Eberly Turkeys being advertised for $3.99 a pound, about $1.50 a pound less than the other store where I ordered it. Called and canceled that one, now have my order placed with Balducci's. Still an obscene price per pound, but I'm dealing with it.

                              Also, I have decided not to brine. Want my gravy to be delicious and don't want to risk it getting too salty.

                              1. I have now officially abandoned my quest to find the organic canned cranberry sauce. I know it exists (OrganicGrown brand) but no one around here carries it.

                                Last night I bought fresh organic cranberries, and I am going to go for it. I am going to take a can of Ocean Spray, empty it, and fill it with homemade cranberry sauce. I'll let it sit in the fridge a couple days before Thanksgiving then unmold it and slice it in front of others...

                                Just in case this raises a ruckus.... I am going to keep the displaced cranberry sauce wrapped and hidden in the fridge, and if I have to serve it I will...

                                Please don't tell my guests....

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  Are you going to make the jelly kind or the kind with still whole-ish berries in it? If the former, I'd be interested in the recipe you'll be using. Thanks - and good luck with this adventure - it sounds like you are pretty much set.

                                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                    whoops---guess I should read to the end1

                                    I won't tell but take a picture for us, okay?

                                  2. Last night's shopping included fresh cranberries - $4 per small container, ouch.

                                    Butter - Organic Valley - $4.69 per pound

                                    Organic Apple, Cranberry, Grape Juices, around $5 each.... for a punch I will mix these with sliced fruit. Several guests are not drinking alcohol.

                                    Organic snacks - Tostitos, various crackers, Newman's Organics Cookies, German Waffel Cookies

                                    Organic Graham Crackers for the graham cracker crust for the chocolate cream pie I am making.

                                    Two dozen Pete & Gerry's organic cage free eggs - $4 a dozen, mega ouch.

                                    Organic Mozzarella (For the Pepperoni Cheese Bread) - $4

                                    1. This is the recipe I am going to use for what I am calling:

                                      FOOL ME ONCE CRANBERRY SAUCE.

                                      Instead of water, I am going to use unsweetened organic cranberry juice. I am going to take pictures, and create a slideshow of everything I make.

                                      http://www.oceanspray.com/recipes/Hom...

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                        I love the name!

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          So far so good.... Very easy to make.

                                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                            A few pix of the Fool Me Once Cranberry Sauce. (The one in the bowl is what I took out of the can and have hidden in the back of the fridge.)

                                             
                                             
                                             
                                             
                                            1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                              What fun! Sounds like you've put a lot of thought, heart, and work into this cooking project. I'm looking forward to hearing and viewing your post-dinner report. It would be nice if you didn't have to retrieve the jellied sauce hidden in the fridge, but that may be unrealistic...

                                              Happy Thanksgiving!

                                      2. I am waiting for my film to be developed so I can put together a slideshow.

                                        But here are my thoughts for now.

                                        While you can certainly go organic for a huge meal like Thanksgiving, it will mean more expense, and not necessarily good quality.

                                        I hope some day that will change, but until it does, I will likely go back to my usual way of buying, which is to say, a combination of organic, natural, and regular food items.

                                        1. Turkey- Eberly Organic, 22 lbs. We ended up getting this "on sale" at Balducci's for $3.49 a pound. No matter how you slice it, $77 is a lot for one turkey. This one was delicious, moist, full of turkey flavor, but it was no better than any natural or Kosher turkey I've made before. If price was just slightly higher I would buy again. Otherwise, no.

                                        2. Fresh produce such as carrots, sweet potatoes, string beans, celery, onions, garlic, cranberries, oranges, lemons, limes.... were all good, and all much more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. Frozen fruit from Trader Joe's- cherries, strawberries, pineapple, very good, as was frozen corn.

                                        3. Potatoes on the other hand, were a DISASTER! I bought three bags of organic Yukon Golds and every single spud (in two of the bags) was almost totally black inside or had large black patches in them. I was very tempted to run to the store and buy regular potatoes, but my mother-in-law convinced me she could could salvage them with her knife skills. She did and we ate them. But I am returning the third bag to the organic food store I bought them at. Odd thing - they looked fine on the outside. My MIL says she thinks they were likely picked in the summer and stored at improper temperatures. They turned out to be decent mashed potatoes, when all was said and done. No one got sick. But still...

                                        4. For stuffing I made my own homemade white bread the day before to use as a base. It came out very good. I used King Arthur Organic White Flour. Good Stuff. I also used it to make pumpkin and cranberry orange quick breads, and pepperoni cheese bread. All came out excellent.

                                        5. I made a Chocolate Cream Pie using organic chocolate, half and half, milk, eggs, sugar cornstarch, and butter. Delicious! Tasted just as it does regularly. For the crust I took a bag of organic honey graham bears, smashed them, and added a little sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter for a crust. Blind baked it about 8 minutes. Came out excellent! I was very pleased with this pie. The only thing...the organic items were expensive.

                                        6. I tried making "Fool Me Once" Cranberry Sauce (see posts above) but it didn't fool anyone. It did not set firmly. So I spooned it into a bowl and put both the canned which I had saved, and the fresh one on the table. Every drop of the organic one was eaten, while there were a couple slices of the canned leftover. I wasn't paying attention to who ate what, but I do know everyone was happy.

                                        I'll have pix in a few days, and I will post about the organic wines on my wine thread on the wine board.

                                        Thanks to everyone for advice!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                          Good for you, Trish! Sounds as if you are getting a few cranberry converts. Cranberries rate highest of fruits to buy organic for safety -- I'm not sure why. I even buy organic citrus because I save the peels for cooking no matter what I use I have for the fruits. My Thanksgivings have been almost entirely organic or natural since moving to Vermont. Some were even gluten-free, nut-free, and with cow's milk and cheese replaced with goat milk and cheese! Almost anything to please my guests except tofu loaf (I can't eat soy!).
                                          I looked up Ridgefield on Google, and I see that you live in Fairfield County, a rather expensive place, from what I remember....I googled a farm there, the Hickories, which was in the National Organic Association but has switched to the CT Farmer's Pledge. I would encourage you to google CT NOFA (CT Northeastern Organic Farm Association), as well as Fairfield, County, Green Resources, Dept. of Ag. Pick Your Own Resources by County, Buy CT grown, CT NOFA Buy CT Grown, Pickyourown.org. A lot of these sites also have farmstands, natural or organic meat and produce, etc. If you buy chicken by the share, pork or lamb by the half, beef by the quarter, and eggs at the farm you can save more money. We have a moderately sized chest freezer for this purpose in the basement. We love the family that runs our CSA (they have an art gallery, too), it is natural, not certified organic, but they don't always have the vegetables we want. We want more radicchio and fennel for the grill in the summer, for example. You have to learn to work with what they give you, but our CSA provides recipes, all the herbs you want, and 15 stems of flowers a week. We only have to pick peas, summer snaps, and cherry tomatos. They sell 2nd grade tomatos at a discount for sauce. We also get local cheese of the week, goat or sheep. I'm trying the winter CSA for the first time this year: monthly greens, carrots, small potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, a few parsnips, winter squash, pie pumpkin, and small turnips.Unfortunately their scorzonera seedlings failed this year. I'm trying to find a few more recipes for winter squash. I'm inundated with it. And the farm is trying to make prosciutto
                                          ! Still getting cheese, monthly --- there's also bread.
                                          I'm enjoying it; there's a lot of camaraderie. I split half my share with a friend and her family --- buying a 4 person share is cheaper than a 2 person share.