This weekend my husband pulled out our tomato plants. We threw the last of the basil in a stir-fry last week and the parsley has gone to seed. The only life in my front-yard garden is a skeptical rosemary plant, a leggy mum, and two grinning jack-o-lanterns. The good news: this doesn't mean my season of eating locally has concluded. Growers and producers in the Grand Rapids area will have me eating with a sense of place all winter long.

Vegetables from a Grand Rapids garden
One of the last harvests from the garden.

When I think about eating in the fall, the usual suspects come to mind: crunchy apples, roasted squash, and braised kale salads. This time of year I bake pies (like this insanely delicious Nutmeg Maple Pie and this Apple-Pie Cake), simmer chicken stock all night in my crock-pot, and enjoy my hearty morning oatmeal. It is the season of food that sticks to your bones, lingering at coffee shops (Caf Miel at Rowster, anyone?), and of course, bracing ourselves for the annual day of feasting: Thanksgiving.

We are just a few weeks away from a day devoted to fall foods, family and expressing gratitude. Read on for tips to fill your table with locally sourced products that will be a true celebration of life's bounty and a testament to small producers and food businesses that make our region uniquely delicious. Consider this your Thanksgiving guide, with each course broken down and sourcing information provided.

Cran-Apple Sauce: My husband grew up on an apple farm so this is a family favorite. Stretch your legs and go apple picking at Sietsema Orchard's or Robinette's. Combine diced apples, Michigan cranberries scored from the Fulton St. Farmers Market, sugar, and water and in just a few minutes you'll have a lovely cranberry side dish. The recipe is posted at the end of this article. Its almost as easy as opening the can of Ocean Spray.

Apple picking at Robinette's.
Apple picking at Robinette's.

Mashed Potatoes: I took a tip from the Amish and wrapped potatoes from Groundswell Organic Farm in newspaper and stored them in my basement; a convenient way to have potatoes all year long. Potatoes store well, so you'll find a terrific selection at the farmers market all year long to roast, whip, slice or top with marshmallows.

Vegetable Side Dishes: Local veggies shine as backup dancers to your bird. I recommend making several sides that have color and variety. Some inspiration: Honey glazed carrots, raw shaved Brussels sprout and kale salad, creamed collared greens, cauliflower gratin, or roasted green beans with pesto. Yes! You can buy all these vegetables at the Fulton St. Farmers Market. Nourish Organic Market has a great selection of bulk grains and legumes if you want to add those to your side dishes.

Stuffing: There are so many glorious versions of stuffing. A unifying strategy for success: use good bread. I recommend Field & Fire bakery at the Downtown Market, swing by to stock up on bread for stuffing and filling a breadbasket dedicated to soaking up gravy. I'll be honoring the Pennsylvania Dutch in me by throwing some oysters from Fish Lads into my stuffing (or more accurately, my grandmother will.)

A tasty plate of food at the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted.
A tasty plate of food at the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted.

Turkey: Stop what you're doing and place an order for a turkey. It is so fulfilling to meet up with a farmer the week of Thanksgiving and get your fresh bird. The following folks are taking orders and usually have pickups in town: Crane Dance Farm, Creswick Farms, and Rakowski Family Farms.

Pie: If you ever lose your purpose in life, make a pie from scratch and you'll instantly be grounded (and well-fed), at least thats the case for me! Fall-inspired pies topped with fresh cream should be on every Thanksgiving table. If there's ever a moment to slow down and cut some butter into flour, roast and puree pumpkin, and toast pecans, Thanksgiving is the time. Pick up a pint of ice cream at Love's Ice Cream to elevate your dessert think salted caramel, pumpkin, or apple cider sorbet.

When planning your Thanksgiving food, don't forget the drink. As Beer City USA, we have the perfect pint to compliment each dish, plus hard cider (my favorite with heavy foods), wine and spirits. For a one-stop shop, visit Art of the Table on Wealthy St. and one of the helpful staffers will point you in the right direction.

Brussels Sprouts Ready for Roasting, photo courtesy Downtown Market
Brussels Sprouts Ready for Roasting, photo courtesy Downtown Market

This Thanksgiving (and perhaps every Thanksgiving!) visit the farmers markets and local shops to load your canvas bags full with vegetables, breads, apples, grains, potatoes, cranberries, oysters, sausages, eggs, butter, milk, ice cream, chestnuts, and (drum roll, please) a turkey. The best part about this Thanksgiving plan? Locally sourced sustainable foods taste better and the joy of supporting our regional economy feels terrific. Plus, you get to avoid long lines at the grocery store, which means more time to count your blessings.

P.S. I have yet to locate a source for local pearl onions, in fact the frozen variety is hard to find too, but I cannot write a Thanksgiving piece without at least linking my family's favorite recipe, something dreams are made of: Creamed Pearl Onions. Bon appétit!

Enjoy my recipe for Cran-Apple Sauce:

Cran-Apple Sauce Recipe