While the season for most local fruit is done, you can still find fresh cranberries on Island market shelves, as the fruit’s season typically runs from April to November. Now is the perfect time to get crafty with the local berries, with recipes such as savory cranberry sauce to desserts such as the following Nantucket Cranberry Pie.
Everything about making this dessert was unexpected, starting with picking the cranberries. I gathered the fruit myself, but kneeling in the damp earth for too long on my hands and knees I put my back out. The euphoria I felt harvesting the luscious red fruit for the very first time quickly dimmed to questions of Advil and did we still have a heating pad.
Still, I had managed to pick two whole cups of ripe cranberries. An old friend was staying with us, and his daughter and her family were coming to dinner. He was making a bouillabaisse and I had promised to make dessert. My go-to cranberry dessert is cranberry walnut pie and I had already bought the ingredients for it. Just as I was about to get started, a friend dropped by with a recipe for Nantucket Cranberry Pie by Laurie Colwin from a 1993 Gourmet magazine.
Colwin, who died way too young of a heart attack in 1992, remains one of my favorite short-story writers and food writers. Her recipes are delicious, homey, and uncomplicated. She describes how to make something the way a good friend would. She’s personable, matter of fact, and humorous,
Colwin describes this pie — which isn’t a pie, but a cake — as a dessert so easy a child could make it. Given how my back felt, the ease of this sounded just right. I buttered a springform pan and went to work.
And a note: you can buy organic Vineyard cranberries from the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. Call them at 508-693-3280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nantucket Cranberry Pie
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Chop enough cranberries to make two cups and enough walnuts to make 1/2 cup.
2. Put the chopped cranberries and walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar in a buttered 10-inch pie plate or springform pan.
3. Mix 2 large eggs, 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) melted and cooled butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Stir the batter until it is smooth and pour over the cranberry walnut mixture. Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
I made a simple recipe even simpler. I put the cranberries and walnuts into the Cuisinart and pulsed them a few times. I emptied the mixture into the buttered springform pan and added the rest of the ingredients to the Cuisinart and the batter was ready in less than a minute. From the taste of the raw dough I knew I was onto something good. Smug about improving on Laurie Colwin and having almost no cleanup I put the cake in the oven and went about my business, which meant getting back in bed with the heating pad.
In a few minutes the distinct smell of burning and smoke wafted upstairs. I raced down to the kitchen. The pan was leaking all over the oven. In my haste I had not attached the bottom of the springform pan properly. People were arriving any minute I had no choice but to keep moving ahead. I cleaned up some of the goo in the oven with a spatula, set the pan on a cookie sheet, put it back in the oven, and hoped for the best. The smoke abated. The juice stopped running, and after 40 minutes the cake was golden brown.
Surprisingly the cake was still excellent. Nothing had burned. The flavor was dense and buttery. I served ice cream on the side, but it wasn’t necessary. Laurie Colwin said that although this dessert could be served with vanilla ice cream, crème-fraiche, or custard, her favorite way to eat it was all by itself. One piece was left over, which I ate with nothing on it for breakfast the next morning. Colwin, as usual, was right.