Monday, December 6, 2010

Cranberry conundrum

Every year about this time I go into Cranberry stashing mode. For as much as the small red berry is touted for its health benefits (face brightening! cholesterol lowering! gum protecting!) it is  one of the few truly seasonal fruits, available in its whole form only in winter.

This is because the cranberry -- also known as the bounceberry because bouncing machines are used to test the veracity of the fruit -- needs cold weather to grow, and so is unlikely to be supplied by Mexico, though small quantities are grown in Chile. If you associate the bogs where cranberries grow up with New England, (as I do), be surprised: over half of all cranberries actually hail from Wisconsin, which is apparently why Cranberry Cheddar is such a good idea.

And as good as cranberry juice is (I'll definitely share my husband's rum cosmo this winter), I have to admit that a small dollop of cranberry sauce is the perfect foil for most winter meals. A venison roast, a herbed leg of lamb, even a butternut squash stew, is complimented by the sweet savory, like Bogie brightened by Bacall.

And this is where our dilema perennially occurs. What to do with the superfruit -- which on its own is not only sour, but bitter as well -- to enhance its star qualities and still let it take center stage? For the cranberry is not really a team player until it gets to the plate.

In my childhood home, this always meant three things: cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, and, of course, cranberry log. In order to appease the different cranberry appetites in the household, namely, her own, my mother's table generally hosted more than one form of the berry. Thanksgiving dinner was likely garnished by not only the ubiquitous Ocean Spray cranberry log, complete with the striped indents from the side of the can, but a cooked cranberry port sauce and a raw orange cranberry relish.

I don't generally have time for this. Friday night, when kids are coming in from lacrosse, filtering down from their rooms, hungry, to drag me from work for food, the last thing on my mind is preparing three cranberry dishes (even the log is a bit time consuming, as I must get it out whole). So I have taken the tastes of all and come up with one dish to suffice for everyday cranberry imbibing -- not, of course, to question the reign of those other dishes on the holiday table. (Though you should try this, Mom, it's really good! and quick!) And, with the addition of the orange juice, I can cut down on the amount of sugar in those other recipes, which is necessary to combat the sour fruit.)

Everyday Cranberry Sauce

One bag of cranberries
juice of two oranges
1/2 cup raw sugar (any sugar you have will do, brown sugar makes it really special and honey takes it to a whole 'nother level.)
cinnamon stick

Combine ingredients in a pan over medium heat and simmer, covered (cranberries are wicked messy when they pop, especially on an electric stovetop), for 15 minutes, or until fruits have popped sauce is of a uniform consistency. It will be shiny and thick, but berries will not totally disintegrate. Makes about 2 cups.

Can be stored in the fridge for up to a while, and doled out with each meal for a superfruit punch. If you hoard them, as I do, just throw the bag in the freezer -- industry sources say it will keep 9 months but I have used them after a year to no ill effects.

Enjoy! And Bon Sante!

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