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Beth Dooley spotlights local, seasonal Thanksgiving fare

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Foods like squash, cranberries, potatoes and whole wheat rolls will fill the tables of many of our Thanksgiving dinners.  Those foods are all seasonal staples of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.

Local food writer Beth Dooley's new cookbook focuses on helping people eat those seasonal foods all year long.  Her book, "The Northern Heartland Kitchen," guides readers through our region's long, cold winters to our warm summers.  Dooley spoke with MPR's Morning Edition to share a few of her recipes and talk about the challenges of eating locally in the Upper Midwest.

Cathy Wurzer:What's different about eating locally and seasonally in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, versus other parts of the country?

Beth Dooley: We have a few more challenges because our growing season is so short. But the blessing is we also are the center for fabulous meats, wonderful heritage, dairy products. We have cheese makers that come from long traditions of cheese making. We have a lot of the root vegetables that store beautifully through the year. In fact, there are varieties of carrots that actually taste better after they've been in storage and their carbohydrates have sweetened, and those aren't released at least until February when they're at their peak. So we really do benefit from a lot of great stuff that we ship out to the rest of the country but I think we need to appreciate here.

Wurzer: What's one small thing that someone could pretty easily do today to eat more seasonally?

Dooley: Go to the farmers markets and go to the natural food coops. The farmers markets are still open and they're even open today so you can go down and get your last minute squash, or if you forgot to get enough potatoes, or if you forgot the whole thing they will be selling turkeys. The St. Paul Farmers Market is open all winter long every Saturday. They have a winter market, and they do sell a lot of the storage crops.

Wurzer: You mentioned squash, and when I think of Thanksgiving I usually think of squash. I know you brought along some recipes to share here. So, what's stuffed squash? Talk about that.

Dooley: With so many people wanting to cut back on meat, squash is so dense and rich and satisfying-tasting that that recipe in particular uses a Cinderella pumpkin which is actually a squash but it looks like a pumpkin. It's a tiny, orange, round squash. It's a little bit sweeter, it makes a great pie, but it's also delicious stuffed. In that recipe I simply roasted it, hollowed it out and then stuffed it with wild rice and cranberries. It makes a nice meatless option for someone at your table who's vegetarian or vegan, or it makes a great side dish for someone who wants something to go with the turkey.

Wurzer: You mentioned cranberries. I think your recipe for cranberry sorbet looks fabulous.

Dooley: Good! Well, we're lucky because Wisconsin is the largest producer of fresh cranberries. Massachusetts beats us in terms of volume, but most of those cranberries are processed. Ours are used fresh. What's really wonderful is that most of them are grown sustainably and they're hand-harvested. So they're beautiful berries. If you buy them now they're actually still very fresh, and they're a little bit sweeter than you might expect. So taste them while you're cooking — you might not need quite so much sugar.

Wurzer: What might we find on your Thanksgiving table?

Dooley: That squash that I mentioned. Of course, mashed potatoes. Gravy, stuffing, chestnuts. There is a grower who has been lovingly re-hybridizing the American chestnut. The beautiful chestnut trees were wiped out in the 1950s by blight. This grower, Badgersett Research Farms, has hybridized a new blight-resistant trees, and now those nuts are being raised by growers in Iowa and Wisconsin. They're beautiful trees.

(Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)