Cranberry season

By Laura Wainwright - November 21, 2007

Just when the grape and apple season comes to a close we can turn our thoughts to cranberries, yet another fresh local treasure. I love to go into Morning Glory Farm this time of year and ladle up big bags of the cranberries they sell from Carver. I use plenty and put lots in the freezer.

Everything about cranberries appeals to me. They grow in beautiful places right here on the Island. They are red, my favorite color. They are versatile and easy to work with. They are healthy and delicious. They aren't sweet, but that's easily remedied with a little honey or sugar.

I live on Lamberts Cove Road and it is exciting to see the renovation of the bog at Cranberry Acres that is taking place. The Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) is painstakingly clearing, replanting and renovating the bog. I often stop at the Wakeman Center nearby and walk the trail at Cranberry Acres. The short trail hugs three reservoir ponds, which formerly were used to flood the bog.

You can watch the wild berries as they form and mature. There is a sign reminding you not to pick but instead to support the work of the VOLF by buying a bag of their organic cranberries. I've seen them for sale at Morning Glory Farm. This is a way to support this work and eat well and locally at the same time.

Now that Cranberry Day has been celebrated and the harvest is in, it's time to cook. Most of us associate cranberries with Thanksgiving. Cranberry relish is a classic part of this feast. There are many variations both cooked and raw and it's fun to experiment and try new varieties. But I always return to my favorite recipe, a cooked relish with apple and spices. The friend who gave it to me makes it with honey. I prefer the cleaner taste of sugar. Leftover relish keeps a long time in the refrigerator and is delicious with cooked pork or chicken and as a spread for cheese or meat sandwiches.

Sheila Muldaur's Cranberry Relish
1 1/4 cup honey
(or 1 1/2 cup sugar)
2 apples
1 lb. fresh cranberries
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ginger

Core and dice apples. Wash cranberries in hot water. Put apples and cranberries in a 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add spices. Cook for ten minutes. Mash with a potato masher and continue cooking for another five minutes or so.

This recipe can be easily doubled or even tripled.

This year I am experimenting with cranberry vinegars and cranberry dressings. "The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook" has a good recipe for Cranberry Vinaigrette. It is a lovely pink color and adds spunk to a salad of fall greens. Kim Rizk, the author, claims it keeps for several weeks in the refrigerator and can also be used as a marinade for grilling turkey cutlets, boneless chicken breasts, or pork tenderloin. I have not tried this yet, but I plan to.

Cranberry Vinaigrette
½ cup whole fresh or frozen
3 tbsp. raspberry vinegar
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp. minced shallots
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cranberry juice
3 tbsp. walnut oil
1 tbsp. honey
3 leaves fresh mint or
1 small pinch dried
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Kosher salt to taste

Place the cranberries, vinegar, garlic, shallots, and mustard in a food processor or blender and pulse several times to coarsely chop. Add the cranberry juice, walnut oil (I did not have this one time and successfully substituted olive oil for all the oil in the recipe), honey, and mint, and blend until thin and smooth.

With the machine running, add the vegetable oil in a steady thin stream, and blend to form a slightly thickened and emulsified dressing. Season with salt as needed.

My absolutely favorite cranberry dish is Cranberry Walnut Pie. It is easy to make and utterly delicious. The first time I had it was in a bed and breakfast in Duluth, Iowa, in 1998. The pie is filling, but believe it or not that day it was the first course of a 5-course breakfast. I still have the recipe written out on a grey guest registration card. I was surprised to have what I thought was a local delicacy in Iowa. I was embarrassed to be so provincial when I learned that Wisconsin right across the Mississippi is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States. Massachusetts takes second place.

Cranberry Walnut Pie
9" unbaked pie crust
2 cups whole cranberries
1 cup whole walnut halves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup flour

Set the oven to 325 degrees.

Place cranberries and walnuts in pie shell. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Combine egg, sugar, and flour. Beat well. Spread on top of fruit and nut mixture. Bake 45-50 minutes.

I keep a manila file full of favorite things to make and things I hope I'll make. I tend to collect ones for local produce and there are many for cranberries. This year I have my eye on a cranberry bread pudding from the Gardner Museum in Boston. I've had it there and I know how good it is. There's also a cranberry, sausage, and pecan stuffing that I tore out of the November 2000 Gourmet that sounds yummy. Maybe this year I'll finally make it.

Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.