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Classic Thanksgiving Dishes, Right In Your Backyard

Shannon Dooling for NHPR

The traditional thanksgiving feast includes turkey, potatoes, cranberries and of course, pie. Some of the foodies from NHPR’s newsroom traveled around the state to find more on the local producers and traditions of holiday fixings. 

Thanks to Shannon Dooling, Emily Corwin, Sam Evans-Brown and Todd Bookman for these stories, which first aired last November.

Small Time Bird Farming

We begin near the Seacoast in Lee, where two small-scale turkey farmers are raising Narrangasett turkeys. Jamie and Jake Farrell are the first to admit, that they're a bit green when it comes to bringing up turkeys, but for these Durham raised brothers, that seems to be part of the allure.

Jamie crafted the plan last spring.

Jamie Farrell: The idea was to feed ourselves and some neighbors and friends and…see where it went.

And his brother Jake, having raised chickens himself and therefore being the family poultry expert, jumped at the opportunity.  

Jake Farrell: We started building a field in March last year, that was for feed for the turkeys essentially and for some vegetables and such for us as well.

And in that field on this small plot of land in Lee, they planted corn, buckwheat, oats, pumpkins, melons, and zucchini , growing the majority of feed needed for eighteen Narraganset turkeys right in their backyard.

The past seven months provided plenty of lessons and a few steep learning curves. Not least of which: how to clip a turkey's wings.

Jamie Farrell: See how they're kind of lopsided when they fly, that's because we cut only the right wing so they're like, ah!

But did they ever really feel over their heads? 

Jake Farrell: Just when you wake up and there's turkeys all over the lawn, God we gotta go get 'em.
Jamie Farrell: Yea, they're sitting on our cars…
Jake Farrell: And they're in the chicken coop, they're in the guineas, they're on the roof….just like, oh my God, what are we gonna do with all these turkeys

At least a dozen or so of those turkeys will be feeding friends and family this Thanksgiving…fulfilling the Farrell brother's original wish back in March. Next year will likely see more turkeys and possibly a venture into pig farming.

First In The Nation... In Spuds

For many people, Thanksgiving dinner is more about the side dishes than the actual bird.  A bowl of mashed potatoes will be right next to the turkey on most dinner tables tonight, and New Hampshire lays claim to the first potato in North America.

The new world’s first potato was harvest in Derry, NH. Historians say it grew in the earth beneath what is now the state’s largest apartment complex.

Robert Frost’s book of poems West Running Brook describes the stream that fed that land almost 300 years ago. The brook still flows between apartment units today. This is sacred ground when it comes to the potato.

Holmes: Where you’re standing right now, this was the common field. So this is where they planted the first crop.

Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR
Rick Holmes at the site of the nation's first potato harvest.

That’s Rick Holmes, a local historian. He has a big white beard and walks with a cane. He says his predecessors moved to Derry from Northern Ireland in the 1720s, just a few years after the town was founded.

Holmes: so you'll have to suspend reality and look at it as it was in 1719. about 200 scots who were living in Ireland immigrated here, and it was the first real Ulster Scots colony in America. They came to this area, and they stayed together, they built all of their homes along this street out here which is Londonderry turnpike now.

After the settlers arrived in Nutfield – that’s what Derry was called back then – they lived on only eel, which they caught 10 miles away in the Merrimack River. Meanwhile they were clearing and planting the Common Field. They were led by Reverend James McGregor.

Holmes: And you have to roll your R when you say McGregor, and he brought with him a pack of seed potatoes, which he planted here in the spring of 1719, and that was the start of the potato industry in America.

Holmes says one early Massachusetts colonist did try to plant a potato before the New Hampshire settlers did. It didn’t go very well.

Holmes: He ate the tops of the potatoes, the green part, the plant that was growing above the surface, and he threw away all the roots, not knowing that was the good part. But OUR people, our good Scots Irish, knew exactly what to do with them, how to eat them, and I think that settles it Thank YOU!

New Hampshire’s claim to the first potato has been substantiated by the US Potato Board and the USDA. The Potato Board says that it was 117 years later that Christian missionaries brought the potato from New Hampshire to Idaho.

Berries From The Bog

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce. Adventurous New Hampshire residents can opt out of the can-shaped, cranberry cylinder by tromping out into their local bog.

Laconia resident Mark has lost his voice, but not his enthusiasm for picking wild cranberries in the Lakes Region.

Johnson: Finding cranberries is not always easy, but you’ll look out there and, as I say you’ll walk and you’ll find these mossy bog, and you’re looking and looking and then you’ll see cranberries and you’ll spot the stem with the tiny leaves on them and you know you’re getting there and then low and behold they just start to… appear.
Johnson: so if you just take ‘em right, cause we just take them and put them right in the freezer, you can see that there’s still sphagnum moss in there [chuckles]

That’s Sphagnum Moss Johson just found in his berries. It’s where wild berries grow in New Hampshire: in a floating mat of spongy moss that soaks up 16 to 26 times its weight in water.

Johnson: It looks like 70 shag carpeting, and you know the bog just quakes when you walk, and you feel like you’re barely suspended above water.

American Cranberries can be found in these bogs from North Carolina to Southern Canada, and from Maine to Minnesota.

Johnson: So I’ve just thrown some cranberries in, so those will boil and then I’ll throw in some oatmeal, some walnuts.
Evans-Brown: This is a very hearty breakfast
Johnson: Yeah!
Johnson: Anybody listening could probably find a likely bog within a half mile of their house, at least give it a shot.
Evans-Brown: If they knew what to look for, I think that’s the key. And you want to be careful telling people what to look for I suppose because there aren’t enough cranberries for everybody.
Johnson: Well there may be, who knows, Really it’s the odd-person who’s going don rubber boots and wade out through mucky water to clamber onto a cranberry bog.

At a buck fifty a pound, don’t calculate how much you’re making an hour by picking wild berries, like Johnson says, it’s about something else.

Johnson: Just, discovering a new place, being out there with a few friends and as soon as your away from, you may be in a bog along the road, but you get out there 100 yards and it’s a timeless environment, you figure your standing in a bog that started to form soon after the ice-age left so 12,000 years ago, who knows how deep that would be and who knows what kind of things are buried in it. That’s what I love, you’re out there and you’re in a different world, and that and combined with friends who enjoy that kind of thing, I don’t think it gets much better as far as a day out.

Credit Todd Bookman / NHPR


And finally, many of us will finish off the meal with a slice of pumpkin pie.  Though, it might be the one part of the meal many cooks don’t prepare themselves. At one bustling bakery in Concord, pies are getting  stacked high.

Allison Ladman: My name is Allison Ladman, I’m the owner. It’s a little crazy right now.

Ladman is cranking out pies, really nice looking pies, at The Crust and Crumb Bakery.

Ladman: We are doing pumpkin, apple crumble, cranberry apple streusel, a forest berry crumb, which is our normal best seller kind of pie. A mince crumb, a maple bourbon pecan…

Ladman’s got four employees in the small kitchen helping her. Blenders are blending, mixers are mixing. Phoebe Vanguilder grates nutmeg.

Vanguilder: This is pumpkin pie, so there are cloves and cinnamon and flour and nutmeg and ginger and eggs and milk and cream, and pumpkin, or course.

The Crust and Crumb has 112 pie orders to fill. Plus rolls, loaves of bread and other sweets.

Vanguilder: This is 5 pounds of butter. It’s for making whoopee pie frosting.

Customers who didn’t pre-order also trickle in.

Beverly: I’m not baking, cause I’m not a good baker, so I’m out to find the treats, and these pies look excellent here, so I’m going to buy one of these.

That’s Beverly. She asked me to not use her last name. The reason: at Thanksgiving Dinner, she’s going to try to pass off the pie as homemade.

Beverly: I don’t want my guests to know that I bought my pie.

Your secret is safe with us, Beverly.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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