Thanksgiving Dinner: Preparing for That Special Meal While Summer Gardening
Plan Now for Your Holiday Feast
If you are the one who hosts Thanksgiving dinner for family or friends, and you are a gardener (or have a farmers' market close by), now is the time to put up the vegetables that you will need to serve up a delectable dinner. I regularly have 15 to 20 people around my Thanksgiving table and without my garden, I would not be able to afford all that food in November. Even if you only have to take a dish or two to someone else’s house, how wonderful would it be to have it come from your own garden? Preserving during the peak growing season is a fantastic way to prepare for the Thanksgiving feast.
While I don’t raise turkeys (those we have to buy), I do grow vegetables, including corn, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins (for decoration), okra, butter beans, black-eyed peas, cucumbers, etc. Some of those vegetables are just waiting to go on my Thanksgiving table, and maybe yours, too. All it takes is a little advance planning, a canner, and a freezer.
Plan Your Menu
My menu for Thanksgiving dinner hasn’t changed much over the years, and I will bet yours hasn’t, either. I do adapt as we add new family members through marriage or birth, but there are some staples that are always on my table.
In addition to my family's favorite dishes, I always plan part of my menu around the crops growing in my garden long before Thanksgiving rolls around. When I plan ahead based on what is producing well (or what is in season at the local farmers' market if you don't garden), then there is one more thing to be thankful for—a less expensive, delicious Thanksgiving meal.
Depending on where in the U.S. you live, there are probably some signature dishes that you cannot do without. What is your favorite dish? Could you grow it?
- Turkey and cornbread dressing
- Baked ham
- Cranberry sauce
- Green beans
- Butter beans*
- Macaroni and cheese
- Squash casserole*
- Creamed corn*
- Fried okra* (served as an appetizer)
- Dinner rolls and cornbread
- Condiment tray with pickled Okra*, bread and butter Pickles*, and olives
- Apple and pecan pie with ice cream
* denotes that it comes from my garden
Besides dressing (or stuffing) and cranberry sauce or relish, what is the one dish you feel you must serve?
Okra (pickled and fried)
While I don’t grow much okra – about a ten-foot row, our okra patch in the garden produces enough to feed us during the summer and provide some extra for our Thanksgiving feast. I use pickled okra on the condiment platter and fried okra as an appetizer (so I am not having to fry anything right before Thanksgiving dinner.) During the summer, when the okra is growing, I pick small pods daily and after several days I usually have enough to can a quart jar of pickled okra or prepare it for frying.
On a platter with bread and butter pickles (see below) and olives or various cheeses, pickled okra makes a wonderful addition at any party, but especially at Thanksgiving gatherings.
An average pint jar of pickled okra costs about $7.00. I pickle my okra in quart jars instead of pint jars and the cost is less than $1.00 for each quart of pickled okra. For my Thanksgiving dinner, that is a cost savings of about $13.00 – a big win for me.
Being health-conscious, I don’t do much frying, but at Thanksgiving, it is nice to relax the rules a bit so I prepare fried okra as an appetizer. (The reason I don’t fry my okra for the main meal is timing; it is hard to keep fried okra tasting at its peak if I try to serve it with the main meal.) The cost of the okra for 20 people is $0.75 when I pick it from my garden, soak it in milk, roll it in cornmeal then pack in a freezer bag. The price for pre-battered okra (which is not as tasty) is over $6.00 for the same amount. That is a $5.00 savings.
Bread and Butter Pickles
Nothing says the "South" to me like bread and butter pickles - sweet, sometimes spicy, but always with a good crunch. Wherever you live, bread and butter pickles are a nice addition to a condiment platter. Homemade Amish Bread and Butter Pickles cost about $13.00 per quart. Mine cost less than $1.00 for a cost savings of $12.00!
Summer Squash Casserole
Our summer garden if filled with squash and we eat some form of yellow squash and zucchini almost nightly during the gardening season. But, we still have squash – what to do with it? Here is an idea... make a delectable squash casserole ready to pull out, heat and put on your Thanksgiving table.
Making your own squash casserole is a serious cost saving. At my local casserole shop, a squash casserole that serves ten to twelve people costs $33.00. I can make the same casserole for less than $5.00. Talk about cost savings on my Thanksgiving dinner budget! And, because we have many dishes, I don’t necessarily need to double the recipe to feed twenty people. During the summer, if you don’t grow your own, squash is inexpensive. Plan now to make your own squash casserole for your Thanksgiving dinner.
My family loves creamed corn; it has become a Thanksgiving staple, but if you have to buy corn from the grocery store in November the best price you can get is about 2 ears for $1.00. Considering it takes about 20 ears of corn, that is $10.00 that I would have to add to my Thanksgiving dinner budget. Instead, I harvest corn from my summer garden and pre-cook the creamed corn. Cost of growing and cooking my own corn—about $1.00, a $9.00 savings. An added bonus is that I don’t have to actually make that dish the day before the holiday, which saves me time! All I have to do is thaw the pre-cooked corn and warm it up. It really does taste like it just came out of the garden.
Butter Beans (or Lima Beans)
Butter Beans are an easy vegetable to grow and even easier to preserve. All you have to do is shell and blanch the beans in boiling water, cool, then package in freezer bags. I freeze an extra two quarts of butterbeans to cook for my Thanksgiving meal. The cost of my butterbeans is about $0.50, while the cost in my local grocery store for two quarts is about $4.00; that's a cost savings of $3.50 and the taste of homegrown beats anything you can buy in the store.
The Savings Add Up!
Cost in Grocery/Specialty Store
Bread and Butter Pickles
Butter Beans (Lima Beans)
What Is the Cost of a Classic Thanksgiving Dinner?
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 32nd annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, the average cost of the 2017 feast for 10 people was $49.12. With rising prices, I can only assume that the 2018 average cost will be more.
If, and that is a big if, I were only serving what they served, my cost for 20 people would have been about $100.00. Since I serve different dishes to please my family and friends (and you probably do, too), growing, preserving, and serving some of our own vegetables lets me enjoy those dishes I love and save money, too.
What is your favorite part about your Thanksgiving celebration?
Celebrating Our Blessings
While I enjoy planning and preparing our Thanksgiving meal and I relish the savings that comes from my garden, I also pause to remember the significance of the holiday.
Each year I am thankful for so many blessings, but especially the blessing of family and friends. Planning a Thanksgiving meal to share with those I love is one way I celebrate all the richness that they bring to my life. What do you enjoy most about your Thanksgiving gathering?