The hoards of people stocking up for the Thanksgiving holiday on Sunday made the Hollywood Farmers' Market (map) feel like Lollapalooza with vegetables, which means the upcoming Santa Monica market on Wednesday may end up looking like Burning Man at the beach. The best way to battle the crowds this time of year is to hit the market with a plan and a heavy helping of patience. With that in mind, the Southern California farmers' markets have almost everything you need to have a delicious Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to thank your farmers!
Dozens of people lined up early this morning to pick up their organic, pastured turkeys from the folks at Healthy Family Farms, who also had an on-farm pick-up day today out in Santa Paula and will be in Santa Monica on Wednesday with the last of the birds. In addition to raising Thanksgiving turkeys on their new 124-acre farm, Healthy Family also raises organic pastured ducks and chickens and makes delicious Artisan goat cheese year round.
If you don't already have brussels sprouts on your Thanksgiving menu, make sure to add them. Finally in season, these miniaturized members of the cabbage family are the perfect, nutty-sweet foil to Thanksgiving fare, especially sautéed with butter and pancetta and drizzled with a bit of sherry wine vinegar. Unfortunately, too many people have had poorly cooked (read: boiled) brussels sprouts, giving these little green wonders a bad reputation that foodies of conscience should strive to reverse. Just remember, brussels sprouts emit sulfur compounds when overcooked, that's what makes them smell like the inside of a 12-year old boy's gym locker and wet matches. Find the smallest, brightest green sprouts available and cook them within a few days of buying them.
Another oft-maligned and turkey-friendly veggie is finally in season: cauliflower. Like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage, cauliflower is a member of the brassica family, which probably explains why people have a similar love-hate relationship with it. Fortunately, it can withstand longer cook-times much better than brussels sprouts. It also marries particularly well with strong flavors like saffron or garlic, and is delicious in creamy gratins. The Escher-esque Romanesco variety found at Finlay Farms is always a favorite, and it's sure to wow your guests with its geometric beauty.
Perhaps the most famous of root vegetables this time of year, sweet potatoes are a common staple at most Thanksgiving tables. My family loves them mashed and topped with marshmallows baked gooey and golden, but they're also great roasted, whipped and made into chips. The darker orange sweet potatoes are often called yams, though they're quite different than the real yams found in West Africa. Often called "garnet," these are sweeter and a little less starchy than their lighter-colored counterparts. If you're looking to make something that's light and fluffy look for sweet potatoes with lighter flesh, if you want something that will hold it's shape try the darker ones.
Orange could easily be designated the official color of Thanksgiving, especially with the beautiful carrots available right now from McGrath farms among others, though I'm particularly partial to the violet-colored Purple Haze variety. These root vegetables are sweet and earthy and taste great roasted or braised with fresh herbs. Pick ones with healthy green tops. If you're not going to use them right away, cut off the tops, which will draw moisture out of your carrots and make them limp.
Apples have a wonderfully long season in California, and with all the amazing varieties that Cirone Farms grows in See Canyon you can't possibly get bored. The Winesap and Goldrush apples are perfect for Thanksgiving baking, perfectly balancing tangy acidity and juicy sweetness. These crisp varieties hold their texture when cooked and are deep shades of red (the Winesap) and gold (Goldrush) that, if you leave the skins on, lend a festive hue to tarts, pies, crisps and more.
Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!