“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.
But cranberries? No.
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