Cranberries, the all-American side dish

“YOU’VE NEVER HAD CRANBERRIES?” This is my incredulous response to my Better Half, who grew up on the tropical island of Mauritius, out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a place described by Mark Twain as “Heaven on Earth.” The tiny nation is indeed beautiful, and bountiful: mangos, coconuts, bananas (the kind that actually have flavor), pineapple (that is out of this world), and exotic treats such as lychees and longans.

Cranberry harvest in Massachusetts. (Photo by Hal Brown* )

But cranberries? No.

Making cranberry sauce from fresh berries is simple and quick.

In fairness, I had never tried lychees or longans until Sherry introduced them to me. But I did grow up in the Northeastern United States, where the brilliant red cranberry adorns its dwarf shrubbery and grows in bogs and marshes.

So, it seemed incumbent upon me, a New England boy, to rectify this situation, and provide Sherry with a proper American side dish for the holidays.

It was then I realized I have never cooked the real thing. Like most American kids, I grew up eating the stuff out of the can. You know, the jellied glob that has to be coaxed out of its tin environs and hits the plate with a thud reminiscent of a sound-effect in the movie “Alien.”

My experience is somewhat ironic for at least a couple reasons:

1. As mentioned, I grew up in the area that more or less pioneered the cultivation and processing of this berry.

2. Our mother was a stickler for serving healthful food. She was a fanatic about whole grains and fruits, and a staunch opponent of processed foods, long before any of this became fashionable.

But, as long as I can remember, we ate the canned stuff.

SO, I DID MY THOROUGH research — one Google search — and discovered it is quite easy to prepare raw cranberries into a cooked condiment. The one glitch in my pursuit was this: All the recipes called for 12 or 16 ounces of cranberries and I had but eight measly ounces. So, I did what I usually do: I winged it.

I placed the cranberries in a pan, covered them with unfiltered apple juice, 3 tablespoons of sugar and a dash of Allspice and brought this to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer. Meanwhile, I mixed 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with cold water to create a paste; this I mixed into the pot and stirred to thicken the sauce a bit.

The end result is a tangy complement to any traditional main course for a holiday meal. You could certainly add zest of orange or any other spice you so fancy.

Give it a try!

*Hal Brown image licensed via Wikimedia Commons

**Bernd Haynold image licensed via CC and GFDL

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