Aspen Times Weekly: How Aspen Celebrates Thanksgiving | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: How Aspen Celebrates Thanksgiving

Jill Beathard

Aspen is, by nature, an unconventional town, and how locals celebrate the holidays is no exception.

Thanksgiving Day always either coincides with or falls after the opening of Aspen Mountain, which means many local residents either work the holiday or choose skiing over traveling to see family or celebrating in more traditional ways.

But many residents still want a turkey dinner, so they find time to celebrate with their Aspen families. Those dinners, popularly called "Friendsgivings," take place on the actual holiday, a couple of Saturdays before or even in the heart of offseason, like one Aspen resident Keith Goode started six years ago.

"Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, but working in the service industry it just doesn't work to try and celebrate on the day that (Aspen Skiing Co.) decides to have opening day," Goode said. "So, I started Friendsgiving during offseason, also known as a 'thank god it's offseason' party. I've done it in the spring as well."

Aspen also offers numerous public community events that serve people celebrating away from loved ones. Hickory House has provided a free Thanksgiving dinner for more than 15 years, serving up all the traditional fixings at no cost.

"We see it all," said Bryan Baker, general manager. "We see guys coming up from Glenwood who hear about it; last year we had someone from Silt. Lots of people who are alone on Thanksgiving or maybe it's their first Thanksgiving away from home."

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Hickory House doesn't do it alone: Main Street Bakery donates pies, Paradise Bakery provides cookies, Aspen Caterers helps out and textile company Alsco donates some linens, Baker said. Every member of its staff will work a shift that day, and volunteers from the public also help serve and clean up.

Hickory House only asks that guests make a donation to a select nonprofit, which this year will be Ascendigo, a valley program serving adults and children across the autism spectrum.

"It's not required, but people are generally pretty generous," Baker said.

The dinner starts at noon and lasts until all the food is gone, usually around 4 p.m., Baker said.

Also in Aspen is the Aspen T.R.E.E. Farm to Table Community Meal, this year at the Hotel Jerome on Nov. 24 (see Current Events, page 6).

Snowmass Village has a community potluck the Sunday before Thanksgiving that truly attracts residents of all walks of life, from brand-new ski industry employees to 30- or 40-year residents. Now called the John Bemis Thanksgiving Community Potluck Dinner, the event is named for a longtime resident who kept it alive by moving it to the Westin Snowmass Conference Center after it outgrew its former home at the Snowmass Chapel.

Snowmass Rotary and the Snowmass Chapel pay for the turkey, hams and other food items that the Westin prepares, and guests are asked to bring sides, salads and desserts. The Westin donates the conference center space and kitchen labor and provides the entrées at cost to the nonprofits.

The potluck generally serves about 450 people every year, said Alison Campbell, conference service and catering manager at the Westin.

"Anybody that lives in Snowmass Village or works in Snowmass comes to this," she said.

When Campbell began working with Bemis, she said she offered to set up tables for nonprofits to advertise or raise funds at the event, but Bemis told her no way.

"He said, 'I want people to come and to enjoy with no agenda,'" she said. And today, the event continues in that same spirit.

After all, community is what the holiday is really about.

"I have brothers, sisters, and mothers in this town that hold me accountable, hold me up, love me through thick and thin," Goode said. "We all go through the season together. … The party is just a way to gather everyone together and say thank you for being there for me, and letting me be there for you as well."

A ROARING FORK FEAST …

by Amanda Rae

START STRONG

Who says you have to make the entire meal from scratch? A gourmet appetizer from the Hotel Jerome (855-331-7213, hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com) sets the tone. "The spinach and artichoke dip is my go-to for parties when I'm in a bind," says marketing manager Susie Lee. Spicy wok-charred edamame and shishito peppers or a board of artisanal cheese and charcuterie with house-pickled vegetables make simple starters, too.

RARE BIRDS

Local, organic turkeys are essentially nonexistent now in the Roaring Fork Valley, as they're increasingly difficult to raise at 5,000-feet-plus above sea level. Smaller grocers, including the Butcher's Block and the Carbondale Community Food Co-op, are sold out of California imports, but the Holiday Table at Whole Foods Market in Basalt (970-927-1500) stocks organic, heirloom, kosher, and pasture-raised turkeys from Diestel Family Turkey Ranch for order up to Nov. 23. For next year, enroll in the Aspen T.R.E.E. Turkey Cooperative and help raise your own bird to harvest (info@aspen-tree.org).

FAMOUS TATERS

Truth: In the early 1900s, Carbondale produced more potatoes than the entire state of Idaho. Rock Bottom Ranch (970-927-6760, aspennature.org) honors that legacy by growing four varieties in Basalt, including about 2,000 pounds of local heirloom Red McClures. "I love them for mashed potatoes," says director Jason Smith. "They're not waxy or starchy, but retain creaminess and don't dry out. It's a great all-around potato."

Also at RBR: kale, spinach, butternut and spaghetti squash, onions, and chicken eggs; holiday hams and Brussels sprouts after Dec. 1.

VEG OUT

Late-harvest vegetables from North Fork Valley farms are abundant. Find sweet onions and parsnips, carrots, purple-top turnips, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, Asian pears, beets, apples, kale, and spinach at the Carbondale Community Food Co-op (970-963-1375, carbondalecommunityfoodcoop.org); Sustainable Settings in Carbondale (970-963-6107, sustainablesettings.org) is overflowing with biodynamic, organic acorn squash.

Or, order a delivery box of eggs, winter squash, greens, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, carrots, and other goodies from Lizzy's Market in Paonia for pick-up on Wednesdays at Jimmy's in Aspen or the Woody Creek Community Center (full schedule at lizzysmarket.com); order by Nov. 20 ($35; 561-644-5468, besus@pshift.com).

BREAD AHEAD

The heartiest local bread is found at Meat & Cheese Farm Shop (970-710-7120, meatandcheeseaspen.com), baked by Avalanche Cheese Company in Basalt. Choose from two types of naturally leavened sourdough loaves: white farmhouse or whole-wheat honey walnut. "It's not like San Francisco-style, mouthwatering, kill-a-bottle-of-red-wine sourdough," says baker Brennan Buckley. Bonus: both make excellent stuffing and bread pudding.

PICK A PIE, ANY PIE!

For an impressive finale to your holiday feast, order dessert handcrafted by Heather's Savory Pies in Basalt (970-927-0151, heatherssavorypies.com). The 9-inch, deep-dish pies are made to order in more than 20 sweet varieties — including pumpkin, pecan, apple, blueberry, cherry, blackberry, and Key lime, plus banana-, coconut-, and chocolate-cream pie and New York-style cheesecake — with at least 48 hours notice, for pickup until Nov. 25. Popular savory pies (lamb-eggplant, Cuban ropa vieja, tamale) are available, too.

jill@snowmasssun.com