Historical berries.

American Cranberry, Thomas Meehan, 1870′s

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The cranberry has been an American institution since the 1500′s, when it was first written that the Native Americans used them for dying clothes, making pemmican, and wound care. So we know they’ve been around a long time. But in case you think it’s a modern concept, “cranberry juice” was actually first mentioned in Englishwoman Hannah Woolley’s “The Compleat Cook’s Guide” in 1683. I assume the cranberry became popular in England after the 1660′s when settlers sent King Charles II barrels full of them.

Beyond that, if I can bore you with a little history to further prove the cranberry’s decidedly American roots: A Pilgrim cookbook dated 1663 has a recipe for cranberry sauce! Cranberries were also served at the 1703 Harvard Commencement dinner, and were famous among the likes of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson around 80 years later. A Scottish botanist named William Aiton included an entry for the cranberry in volume II of his 1789 work, Hortus Kewensis. He noted that the Vaccinium macrocarpon (American cranberry) was cultivated by James Gordon in 1760. In 1796, cranberries were served at the first celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims, and Amelia Simmons wrote in her book entitled “American Cookery” (which I have a copy of!) a recipe for cranberry tarts. In 1816, Henry Hall first commercially grew cranberries in East Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod and in 1843, Eli Howes planted his own crop of cranberries on Cape Cod, using the “Howes” variety. In 1847, Cyrus Cahoon planted a crop of “Early Black” variety near Pleasant Lake, Harwich, Massachusetts. In 1860, Edward Watson, a friend of Henry David Thoreau wrote a poem called “The Cranberry Tart.” Cranberries are a major commercial crop in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, which is the leading producer of cranberries, with over half of U.S. production. Massachusetts is the second largest U.S. producer. Naturally, it makes sense that cranberries are so closely aligned with America & American history. However, surprisingly, 95% of the cranberries harvested are used in juice, drinks, sauces and dried. Only the remaining 5% are sold fresh. That really makes you think, doesn’t it? Next time you buy fresh cranberries, I guarantee you’ll think of that statistic.

(Honestly- I do! Every freakin’ time I see fresh cranberries I think, “5% of ALL the cranberries harvested…”)

Anyway, like I said when I made the cranberry orange loaf, this time of year is cranberry season. While October is pumpkin time (for me anyway), November to December is cranberry time. Between now & Christmas, cranberries are all over the place. Every Thanksgiving & Christmas day meal include cranberry sauce of some kind. And since cranberries are one of the main things that just scream “America” & “Thanksgiving,” what would Thanksgiving be without cranberry sauce? Nothing, that’s what.

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It’s no surprise then, that the November issue of Better Homes & Gardens features a recipe for a very interesting cranberry orange compote by the creators of Stonewall Kitchen. The compote specifically intrigued me because it had orange rind, candied ginger, maple syrup & “your choice of nuts”; i.e. pecans, walnuts, etc. It sounded unique, so as soon as I got my power back & restocked my fridge & freezer, I thought I’d give it a go and see if it was worth making for turkey day.

Consensus: it is.

Labels & tags are from Sur la Table

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NEW ENGLAND CRANBERRY ORANGE COMPOTE (by Jonathan King & Jim Stott of Stonewall Kitchen, from Nov. 2012 issue of BHG)

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup orange rind, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped candied ginger
  • 1 cup walnuts, pecans, or your favorite nut, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Place sugar and 1 1/4 cups water in large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook about 15 minutes, or until it thickens and turns amber-colored.
  2. Add the maple syrup and cranberries to the sugar mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop. Add orange juice, rind and zest (keeping a few thin strips of rind to the side). Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
  3. Remove from heat. Add ginger and nuts, stirring well. Cool completely. Add to a clean glass jar and cover; refrigerate up to a week, or freeze 6 months.

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Cranberry sauce is one of those brainless things that anyone can make, even if you aren’t a good cook. It takes 5 minutes and basically makes itself. You can make this and bring it to wherever you go for Thanksgiving very easily. I made one large jar, and one 8-ounce jar to give to someone I knew would enjoy it. This recipe is NOT canning-safe. I only put some of it in a canning jar for transport; yes, it sealed (because the compote was hot when I put the lid on), but the recipe itself is not acidic enough for long-term shelf-stable canning. Of course transporting it in one of these hinged jars would’ve been fine too, but they’re much larger than the amount I had left to give, so it would have looked a little skimpy. Plus I didn’t want the possibility of any cranberry leakage in anyone’s vehicle.

But seriously. This is a crazy easy recipe. Definitely a new favorite around here, and maybe a new favorite at your house too?

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Also, please remember, this Thanksgiving in addition to the many poor and/or homeless families already in the area, the hurricane in October left thousands more homeless & without food & clothes. If you can find it in your heart to donate something, there are many places accepting donations. I can give you the address of a church on Staten Island that is accepting donations of everything from non-perishable food to blankets & coats to pet food. You can send it by mail or drop it off if you’re in the area. Alternately, you can just donate to the Red Cross, either text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10.00 via your phone bill, or donate online at redcross.org. You can also send a monetary donation to the New York Police Disaster Relief Fund: 233 Broadway, Suite 1801, NY, 10279. There are also other places you can donate money, supplies and/or clothing/food: Island Harvest, City Harvest, Occupy Sandy, The Bowery Mission, & Faith Community Church. It’s very cold here in New York/New Jersey, & people are hungry. Show your thanks for everything you have by giving to those who don’t have.

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