Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Crush on Cranberries

Hurray! Cranberries have been harvested and are showing up in the stores.
Cranberries growing in a bog. Image via
Image via
Cranberries are part of the earliest cultures in our country.  Growing in the northern wet areas of the Nation, Native Americans gathered them to mix with meats as a natural preservative to keep the dried meats through the winter when hunting was more difficult in the deep snows.  Early European settlers in the colonies borrowed this trick of preservation.  For more about the history of cultivation and use of cranberries click on Cape Cod Growers Association,
Ocean Spray's website, or, Home cooking.
For a detailed look at the compounds that make cranberries so healthy, visit The World's Healthiest Foods

Do you love cranberries?  I have never had a cranberry dish I did not love. 

When I was little, my mother made a cranberry conserve for Thanksgiving that made the rest of the meal pale in comparison.  Now my sister, Rosalind, and I always make it, both to serve at holiday meals and as gifts for some our friends.  And we take some in jars for Mom to enjoy with her meals as soon as the cranberries show up in the stores.  

Ingredients needed for Cranberry Conserve:
Handwritten in my recipe book of favorites.  This spiral notebook is getting just a bit shabby.  One year I made copies in small three ring binders as Christmas gifts for my three daughters.  A better option, because you can make a clean copy if you spill ingredients on the first one, which I do often!
Wash the cranberries in a large pot.  They will float around and you can see the bad ones.  The good one are hard and shiny.  The bad ones are soft and wrinkled (which might be good in grandmother's but should be discarded if you are a cranberry!)
The ring in the pot is not left from washing the cranberries, but from boiling our very hard water to sterilize the jars.  I don't usually take this step because the jars are very clean from the dishwasher, the cranberry conserve is kept in the refrigerator and usually eaten within a few weeks, but this batch is going to our bake sale at St. Mark's, so I want to be very sure!

 Grate the rind from your oranges .  I use this amazing little grater from Ikea that catches whatever you grate in a container that has a separate lid which can then go into the refrigerate to store.  Very handy if you grate too much cheese for your enchiladas.

Cut your oranges in half and squeeze the juice into a cup.

Add to the four cups
of cranberries, the orange juice (NOT THE RIND...THAT GOES IN AFTER YOU COOK THE CONSERVE) the sugar, the water, and the raisins.  OK, some of you are saying..."Oh never mind, I hate to grate!"  You may use dried orange peel instead, but it won't be nearly as pretty or taste anything like the real deal.  Just saying!

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat until the conserve is bubbling only gently, and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you use a wooden spoon as I do, it is now a gorgeous color.  For those purists who like their spoons to remain wood color, you may want to use a metal spoon.  Cranberries are used as a source of natural dye, so forget the plastic spoon as well.

While the cranberries are cooking, break up your pecans.  You can chop them with a knife if you like, but I prefer the way the broken ones look in the finished dish.  As an artist, I like my food to look as good as it tastes.

When the cranberries are cooked, remove from heat, add the nuts and the orange peel, and let cool for a few minutes.  I can never wait on this step and have burned myself ladling the conserve into jars.  Fair warning.  You can store the cranberries in anything, just keep in mind that glass doesn't get stained.  If I have procrastinated and will be serving it in a day or so, I put the conserve right into my great grandmother's crystal compote.

And speaking of cranberries, my friend, Margaret Gant, has for several years shared her Vodka Cranberry Cordial with me.  She makes it in November and it is a beautiful color and ready to sip by Christmas.  She delivers the cordial in a recycled orange juice container with the cranberries still in it.  I decant the cordial into my late Uncle Ben's cranberry glass decanter. 

 I don't actually use these matching glasses which are large, but my Waterford liquor glasses, because as the old Brylcreem ad used to say,  "A little dab will do you, use more only if you dare."  Pretty potent stuff! 
There is still a tiny bit left in the decanter from last year, but it has lost its intense color and mellowed to a beautiful amber, sort of the color of Grand Marnier.  I plan to use it in my chocolate truffles this year.  Truffles are my traditional gift for very close friends and neighbors.  I tried to give this tradition up several years ago to loud cries of dismay, so I am again stockpiling Ghiradelli chocolate.  Look for a tutorial for making them as the holidays draw closer.  They don't keep for long periods, so must be made within a few days of gifting.

Once you pour off the liquor, the berries are now ready to garnish vanilla ice cream or a lemon cheesecake.  Careful! They have a kick as well.  If Margaret is willing to share the recipe, I will post that in a few days.  Speaking of recipes, if you like middle eastern dishes, hop on over to Steve Fuller's blog, An Urban Cottage for a yummy dip, Muhammara, which is made with walnuts and roasted red peppers.

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