🌟 Thanksgiving is more than a meal; it's the beginning of a whole season of cooking.
As a lifelong foodie, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It marks the transition from early Fall to late Fall: the time of year when the sun remains low in the sky all day. A few stubborn leaves persist in the fields and gardens, though most have now succumbed to the cold. Life seems to slow down, and yet, things remain busy at the same time.
This time of year, the sun in Oregon no longer rises high enough above the horizon for us to generate significant Vitamin D. In total, we have 80 days of this darkness at this latitude. You can find out for your latitude using the UV index, or, you can use the app Dminder. Here’s a chart from the app showing the changes in solar noon across the year at my latitude:
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, the good news is, there is no risk of sunburning at Thanksgiving (well, you probably already know this). But you may not know that Vitamin D from solar exposure can last through the whole winter. The upper limit to the body's ability to recycle Vitamin D is still unknown, but depending on genes, may be months! The mainstream doesn't mention this when pushing their irradiated lanolin and lichen pills. But it is true: Vitamin D deficiency isn't from the long winter—it's from a sun-blocking lifestyle. Case in point: rickets is still a problem in communities that use the burqa1.
Indigenous people ate large amounts of vitamin D rich seafood to survive the dark months. Should we do the same? As usual, there is no one-size-fits all answer. For example, the Inuit have a trait that allows them to digest quantities of dietary vitamin D that would be toxic to everyone else. Conversely, people from the Equatorial latitudes have a function that stops uptake of UV-generated Vitamin D to prevent it from becoming toxic. For all humans, whether their ancestors hail from the middle or the extreme latitudes, solar vitamin D and dietary vitamin D go through separate pathways in the body:
The two forms are chemically identical, but travel in different pathways. Large doses of dietary Vitamin D can cause the body to dump it's solar reserves. We don't want to do this! Instead, smaller and more consistent dietary sources over time are safer than mega-doses2.
Local Oregon Foods Available in Novemner
Here in Oregon, we have a variety of natural dietary sources of Vitamin D. Lingcod, Rockfish, Sole, Flounder, and Blackcod are all in season on the coast right now. Farmed oysters are also available fresh.
We also have a unique source of vitamin D: wild chanterelles (and other wild mushrooms!)3.
Deer season just closed (game and other meats can also contain Vitamin D, especially if you eat the organs like liver and kidney4). If you are lucky, you will have a friend or family member who can share venison with you.
For other in-season foods, we are the second largest global producer of hazelnuts (also called filberts), which, according to legend, are a cure for the common cold—a welcome and tasty remedy for this time of year:
[The filbert] cures chronic coughing if pounded filbert is eaten with honey. Cooked filbert mixed with black pepper cures the cold.
Credited to the Greek physician Dioscorides, author of De materia medica
Root crops and winter squash are also abundant, and orchard crops and dried herbs. If you are interested in eating with the seasons, I find it best to think of the year as having 8 seasons (early and late versions of each). Local produce comes in when it is fresh, and then it is gone! You have to act quickly to get your share.
Ingredients Available for the Original Thanksgiving
Fish, mushrooms, game, nuts and freshly harvested orchard and field crops… this is starting to sound much like the originally documented Thanksgiving feast. The pilgrims didn't have potatoes, but a letter from the time helps paint the picture of their abundance. This is from William Hilton, passenger on the Fortune (November of 1621).
At our arrival in New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sick and weak, with very small means; the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly; the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, roots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable. No place hath more gooseberrries and strawberries, nor better. Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkey, quails, pigeons and partridges; many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts. Mines we find, to our thinking; but neither the goodness nor quality we know. Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn, if we will plant it upon as good ground as a man need desire. We are all freeholders; the rent-day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking.
Our company are, for most part, very religious, honest people; the word of God sincerely taught us every Sabbath; so that I know not any thing a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England; and so I rest
Your loving kinsman,
While researching this post, I found out the establishment of Thanksgiving is disputed. All but one of the claimants is along the coast. This leads me to my thesis that Thanksgiving is best celebrated with seafood as well as the harvest! And getting back to my lead-in with the angle of solar noon, seafood is a great way to keep Vitamin D levels up through the dark winter5.
Speaking of changes, for those that eat dairy, did you know the color of butter matters? Summer butter with it's golden hue has a higher nutritional value than winter butter6. When I learned this, I was reminded of Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She recounts how her mother would color the white winter butter with carrot juice to make it pretty!
In times past, dairy helped many Northerners survive long winters. Nowadays, it seems like many adults can't handle it. One key may be the A2 beta-casein vs A1 beta-casein proteins. Sheep, goats, buffalo and humans all produce A2 beta-casein milk. Most cows in commercial dairies now produce an additional protein called A1, which is implicated in diabetes and autoimmune/allergic issues7. In years past, I bought cheaper butter for the sake of more pies. After learning about the differences between A2 and A1 proteins, I became more cautious. This is especially important for feeding babies. There are a growing number of dairies that keep cow breeds that only produce A2 cows, such as Jersey cows, if you prefer it over the alternative dairy milks (goat, sheep, etc). Alexandre Family Farms is one here on the Northwest Coast. And you may be able to find a raw A2 dairy at realmilk.com if you can take part in a herdshare.
Oregon’s Local Thanksgiving Shopping List
So, to put it all together, here's my local Northwest Thanksgiving shopping list:
Wild game (or at least pastured, and preferably some organ meat)
Naturally sweet foods such as squashes, root vegetables, orchard fruits, and dried berries
Frost-resistant bitter greens (like chard, kale, arugula and cabbage)
Lots of dried herbs
High-quality A2 dairy
And this will be my guiding plan for the rest of this season. I will send another food exploration when Fall gives way to Winter.
What are your favorite Autumn foods? Let me know in the comments.