the spice and tea exchange

Thanksgiving, Mountain Style

Thanksgiving on the Plateau is becoming a holiday tradition as more and more people are discovering the pleasures of food, family, and football at 3,500 feet. For others, it is the weekend that officially signals the end of the summer and fall seasons and an obvious time to fill the house or cabin with loved ones. It provides the warmth of a family gathering without all the stress that often comes with Christmas.
But for those of us who see nothing stress-free in preparing a delectable feast, there are ways to ease the burden. More and more local businesses stand ready to streamline the holiday with an array of delicious offerings that seem homemade but require little effort.
Robin Crawford, for example, the well-known proprietor of the Cashiers Farmer’s Market, will be offering everything from all-natural turkeys you prepare at home to multi-course à la carte meals you build from her considerable list of sides.  Typically, she says, she offers meals to serve four to six people and a customer may pick up a fully cooked turkey along with any number of sides, including a squash casserole, green beans, and “pilgrim mashed potatoes,” a recipe similar to twice-baked potatoes without the skin but with lots of butter. She can even provide the homemade gravy. All the traditional pies will be available, of course!  
While Thanksgiving marks the end of the season for the Farmer’s Market, they will stock garlands and greenery to usher in the Christmas holidays.  Some people, she says, will put a fall-colored bow on a green wreath and just change the ribbon to green or red as Christmas nears. She also carries a fun selection of yard decorations—turkeys and pumpkins mounted on wire to be stuck in the ground—and can provide simple centerpieces made from straw.
In Highlands, the Mountain Fresh Grocery at the bottom of Main Street offers a complete traditional dinner for six people, the centerpiece being a butter-basted turkey or spiced, glazed ham cooked Thanksgiving morning. The meal includes dressing, traditional green bean casserole, cranberry relish, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, turkey herb gravy, and homemade yeast rolls. For dessert, the market offers Granny Smith apple, pumpkin or pecan pie.
A new and welcome addition to Thanksgiving take-out this year is Sapphire Valley’s Library Restaurant and Bar. Executive Chef Johannes Klapdohr anticipates a traditional menu with a Southern accent or two,  such as collard greens and macaroni and cheese. He, too, will be preparing ham, and orders may be picked up on Thanksgiving morning.
Ingles is another helpful source, offering a fully-cooked turkey or ham dinner for the holidays. A variety of side dishes are available, including homestyle gravy, sweet potato casserole, broccoli and rice casserole, and Amish-style cole slaw.
If you fall somewhere in between doing dinner from scratch and carrying it home ready-made, the Plateau offers lots of help. The Spice and Tea Exchange in Highlands is stocking a wonderful assortment of seasonings to dial your cooking up a notch. Consider, for example, a turkey or ham herb rub. Manager Adison Harris also recommends a baker’s spice blend, a pumpkin pie spice blend, and an autumn harvest blend which intensify the flavors of fruit breads, soups, squash, and sweet potatoes. Another idea she suggests for a home celebration is a mulling mix spice blend that is delicious with apple juice or red wine.
Fresser’s in Highlands will have “everything from soup to nuts,” according to chef Debbie Grossman. Pick up an order of roasted butternut squash and chestnut bisque or a casserole of bourbon sweet potatoes, made, she assures, with excellent bourbon. She can help with the night before Thanksgiving as well, providing her legendary lasagna.
Save room for dessert, because the choices are staggering. Most all the sources listed above will have traditional pies available. Additionally, Whitney Henson, regional manager of Cream and Flutter in Slabtown, says   by Thanksgiving week, she will have the three favorites in her store: pumpkin and apple, of course, but also pecan, which comes in regular, chocolate, or bourbon flavors. The pies can be ordered with 24-48 hours’ notice and may be picked up from the “take and bake” line, which enables you to take the unbaked pie home to bake it in your own oven just like grandma might have done.
Another sublime source for homemade pie is Appalachian Harvest on Main Street in Highlands, where Kimberly Baldwin already has orders for more than thirty.  The pies, which are so heavy they require two hands to hold, are legendary for their organic and generous fruity fillings. Her jarred marmalades, fillings and jellies, which are also sold in Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods Market, include several which are perfect for Thanksgiving. She makes a rich cranberry relish and also recommends a homemade holiday pepper jelly, made from pecans and cranberry.
Of course, there is always the option of dining out, and the choices are enticing. Madison’s, at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, will be offering a full-service dinner, as will Wolfgang’s, also in Highlands.
Wolfgang’s will serve dinner in a series of seatings, beginning at 11:30 a.m. and ending at 4:00 p.m. The menu features such favorites as shrimp and lobster bisque, traditional turkey or ham, as well as a slow-braised lamb shank with root vegetables.  
The Verandah, not to be outdone, will be serving an extensive buffet from noon to 6:00 p.m., featuring a “cold table” laden with shrimp and salads and a hot buffet serving the traditional turkey as well as “turducken,” made of boneless turkey, duck, and chicken held together with stuffing. An elaborate dessert bar will finish off the experience, including traditional pie as well as an assortment of cookies.
And so, like those Pilgrims hundreds of years ago, we gather together for what can only be called a magnificent mountain feast. ◊