Monday, November 3, 2014

Meatless Monday: Cranberry Sauce, A DIY for Everyone

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, it seems appropriate to continue the theme of easy recipes featuring native ingredients. [See easy cornbread from October 20.]

You can make this, too!
This week’s featured ingredient is the cranberry (Vaccinium macropcarpon), a member of the Heath family, and one of the few edible fruits native to North America. It was originally known as the “craneberry,” because the plant’s small blossoms reminded the colonists of the head and bill of a Sandhill crane.

Some form of cranberry dish is common to nearly every modern day Thanksgiving feast, whether traditional, vegetarian, or vegan. It is also one of the easiest foods to prepare. [More on that later.]

For years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of what is now Massachusetts, Native Americans had been crushing this wild berry for use as a fabric dye, as a medicine to treat arrow wounds, and in a high-protein food called “pemmican,” which was composed of cranberries, dried deer meat, and melted fat.

The cranberry requires several special conditions to thrive: sandy soil, abundant fresh water, and a growing season that lasts from May to October. When the Pilgrims arrived in the 1600s, the cranberry was growing wild on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel, and clay-like material. Known as “bogs,” these beds were originally formed by glacial deposits. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Association website, in 1816 Captain Henry Hall of Dennis observed that the wild cranberries in his bog grew better when sand blew over them. He began sanding his vines, his technique was copied, and the cultivation of cranberries began.

I grew up thinking that cranberry sauce came in a can, that was cleverly removed in one piece by opening the can at both ends and gently, slowly, pushing the contents onto a plate for carving.

But once I discovered that cranberry sauce is one of the easiest things to make, there was no going back for me. Homemade cranberry sauce has a kick that just doesn’t come with jellied sauce from a can. 

Every bag of fresh berries has a recipe printed on the back. You need five things:
  • A source of heat
  • A pot for cooking the sauce
  • Water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • A 12 oz bag of cranberries

Here is the recipe: 
  • Rinse and the berries well and pick out any small stems or shriveled berries. (It is important to do this well.)
  • Dissolve 1 cup sugar in one cup water over medium high heat. 
  • When it boils, add the 12 oz bag of berries. 
  • Return to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and boil gently.
  • Stir often until all berries have popped (about 10 minutes). 
  • Remove from heat, pour into a bowl or storage container and cool. 
  • Then refrigerate until ready to serve.

There you have it, the perfect addition to any T-Day feast.

After your initial success, feel free to experiment. If you like a firmer sauce, use less water next time. If you like your sauce less sweet, cut the sugar.

November is the month when the produce bins are well-stocked with bags of these colorful, just harvested fruits. Buy a lot — for cooking now and for future use. They are easy to store; just pop the unopened bag in the freezer. There is no need to thaw the berries before you use them; you can use frozen berries in any recipe calling for fresh fruit.  Be sure to rinse them well and keep in mind that they will take a little longer to pop.

For more on the cranberry, check out this blog post from the past. Ocean Spray is an excellent source for recipes.

Here’s to home cooking! 

Happy Meatless Monday. Good health to you, and to the planet.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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