Thanksgiving is the most important home-cooked meal of the year. It holds, then, that you should be looking for the very best ingredients to cook with. Where better to go than the Greenmarket?
A word on the Union Square market in the run-up to Thanksgiving: it's crowded. You're not the only person who thought to shop here. Prepare yourself for the crowds and they won't be so bad. And on the bright side, the Greenmarket before Thanksgiving is one of the best scenes for serious eaters in New York, right up there with the Russ and Daughters counter before Yom Kippur: New Yorkers and the farmers who serve them excited about good food, with tons of goodwill and character to spare. It's smart to get to the market before the rush on Wednesday, the day before the holiday, but I wouldn't miss the frantic energy of the afternoon before Thanksgiving at the Greenmarket for the world.
After a couple of weeks of being displaced up in Madison Square, the Union Square Greenmarket is back to being in, well, Union Square. The market will be open on Wednesday, November 21st, but if possible, shop Monday or even Saturday, when the crowds will be more manageable.
Make a Donation
Before we get to all the wonderful goodies for your Thanksgiving table, remember that the Greenmarket is still accepting food donations for New Yorkers recovering from Hurricane Sandy. All you need to do is fill up an extra bag of food while shopping and drop it off at the market's information tent. All of the donations go to City Harvest, where they are prepared and distributed. This program makes it incredibly easy to support fellow New Yorkers in need and Greenmarket farmers at the same time.
Okay, now that we've helped out those who need it most this season, let's get to the turkey. The Greenmarket's a great place to pick up a bird. There are lots of great vendors offering birds at the market, and for a complete guide to which are still taking orders, I will defer here to the Greenmarket's comprehensive turkey buying guide. For my money, I think it's pretty much impossible to do better than the birds at DiPaola Turkey Farm. Don't wait—reserve your turkey as soon as possible.
Veggies and One-Stop Shops
When doing shopping for Thanksgiving, it's hard to take my usual leisurely stroll around the market, scoping out what looks best at each stand. Instead I tend to stick to a few stands that I know will have what I'm looking for.
Paffenroth Gardens has a fantastic selection. While the supermarket has onions and shallots, Paffenroth has at least half a dozen varieties of onion and three types of shallots. They've got butternut squash and sugar pumpkins, but also blue hubbards and delicate and spaghetti squash and a half dozen others for good measure. Most everything, including carrots and onions, can be bought loose or discounted in prepacked bags, great for the quantities you need on the holiday. They've also got a great selection of herbs, and a few unexpected selections (burdock root, anyone?).
Keith's Farm (Wednesday, Saturday) has a smaller selection than Paffenroth, but it's my other go to—Keith's got everyone beat on quality. From their famous rocambole garlic to a wide selection of greens and incredibly fragrant herbs, squash and root veggies, Keith's has some of the most beautiful and delicious product at the market.
Norwich Meadows Farm is also a great one-stop shop. They stock an incredibly wide-ranging selection of vegetables, almost all in immaculate condition. Varieties of onions and potatoes abound, as do leeks, scallions, radishes, turnips, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, greens, squash and just about any other vegetable you could want. They're certified organic, so expect to pay a bit more than at other farms that might not have that certification.
My other favorite, while not as cut out for one-stop shopping, is Berried Treasures, purveyors of some of the most flavorful sweet produce out there. They don't have everything, but what they do have is often best-in-class.
Bulich Mushrooms has my favorite selection of mushrooms, from white button mushrooms to more exotic fungi. Madura Farms also stocks a great selection of mushrooms along with a wide range of vegetables including brussels sprouts on the stalk and a beautiful array of winter squash.
Again, Keith's Farm is my go-to for herbs, but Stokes Farm has them beat on sheer selection for the big day: thyme, tarragon, oregano, italian and curly parsley, cilantro, and more were all in stock this week.
Bread and Stuffing
Bread Alone sells some of the best bread you can find at the market. It's a great starting point for your homemade stuffing. They also sell bags of unseasoned stuffing mix, pre-dried and cubed bread ready to be seasoned and doctored up as you see fit—a hell of a timesaver, and a pretty good deal at $3 per 12 oz. bag. Hot Bread Kitchen also sells great bread for stuffing (and last year they had stuffing mix also, though I have not seen it yet this year). Our Daily Bread sells great loaves of bread but no stuffing mix to speak of.
Gifts for the Host
Going over to a friend or family member's for the holiday? No time to cook? Don't show up empty handed; the Greenmarket, once again, has you covered. If your host is a serious eater, curry favor with a pouch of Keith's Farm's famous garlic. It's truly great stuff. Beth's Farm Kitchen's jams make a good gift, too. My favorite, though, has to be a tin of the one-of-a-kind ultra-crunchy Martin's Pretzels.
What did we overlook? Let us know your favorite Thanksgiving tips for Greenmarket shopping in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you at the market!
The Union Square Greenmarket is open on the North and West sides of Union Square Park every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Look for the super-sized pre-Thanksgiving market on Wednesday, November 21.
About the author: Ben Fishner is Serious Eats' advertising operations administrator, and he is currently planning his next meal. He blogs at Ben Cooks Everything. Follow him on Twitter or Tumblr, won't you?