The cranberry is one of only three fruits native to this land. Packed with fiber and rich in antioxidants, cranberries have some major health benefits, such as aiding in digestion and helping control blood sugar. These jewel-like berries are also a great source of vitamins A, C and K.
The historic, local uses for cranberries are extensive and fascinating. It is believed that by the time the first settlers arrived, local Wampanoag tribes had been harvesting wild cranberries for thousands of years.
Cranberries were prized for their natural preservative properties and multitude of uses. They were eaten both fresh and dried; formed into cakes to store over the long, harsh winters; steeped into teas to calm nerves; and brewed into poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds. Their ruby juices were also used to dye fabrics.
One of the most innovative ways in which Native Americans used the wild fruit was in a mixture called pemmican. Fresh, pounded cranberries were mixed into equal parts ground dried deer meat and fat tallow and stored in animal skin pouches. The berries’ acidity helped resist bacteria and preserve the protein and fat-packed mixture for months, making it an essential food source, especially for fur traders on long winter journeys.
Originally, European settlers failed to embrace the intensely sour berries or adopt many of the Native Americans’ preparations. Subsequent to the introduction of British honeybees in North America in 1622, colonists were gradually able to stew and sweeten the berries, and their popularity surged.
Once natural sweeteners became available, early Americans frequently served cranberry sauce as an accompaniment to every single meal of the day. Whalers and mariners carried cranberries on board ships to prevent scurvy at sea.
Today, cranberries are inextricably linked to Thanksgiving, with 20% of total annual consumption (and sales) falling around the holiday.
The cranberry is tied to our early history and survival. They are native to Massachusetts and Maine and thrive in cool, acidic soil. They are healthy and abundant.
It is my hope that the handful of recipes I share with you today will inspire you to get creative with fresh cranberries, using them more frequently in your baking, salads, spreads, sides, beverages and desserts.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, friends and neighbors.
CARIBBEAN MULE COCKTAIL WITH CRANBERRY-GINGER SIMPLE SYRUP
I have long loved the look and idea of the Moscow mule. It seems so festive, prepared with sparkling ginger beer and served in copper mugs, but I do not care for vodka. But while dining out recently, I ordered something called a Caribbean mule, with rum. Unfortunately, it was much too sweet for my taste and lacked depth of flavor. I decided to rework this cocktail recipe at home, and, I must say, my husband and I were pleased with the results — tart, spicy and refreshing. Beware, they go down easily! If you are at all interested in getting creative with holiday cocktails this season, I suggest you invest in a couple of cocktail shakers, a muddler, giant sphere and rectangular ice cube trays, and specialty drinkware. Copper mugs are fantastic at keeping hot drinks steaming and cold drinks icy.
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup dark Caribbean rum
1/2 cup ginger beer
2-3 small limes, juiced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Lime wedges and cranberries, for garnish
2 fresh rosemary stems (optional)
For the simple syrup:
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 cup water
You will need to prepare the simple syrup in advance in order for the flavors to develop and the liquid to cool. Place the 4 ingredients into a small saucepan over medium-low until the water just begins to simmer. Be careful not to bring to a boil, or the cranberries will begin to pop and your syrup will thicken.
Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep and cool for a minimum of 4 hours (or up to a week in advance). Discard the ginger, and strain, reserving liquid and berries separately. You will have extra simple syrup, which is perfect for many holiday cocktails: cranberry mimosas, sidecars, hot toddies and more.
Once the syrup has cooled, place the sliced ginger into a large cocktail shaker, muddling the ginger until it is crushed and the natural juices are released. Fill the shaker halfway to the top with ice. Pour in the rum, ginger beer, lime juice and spices, and finish with 1/4 cup of the simple syrup. Cover, and shake vigorously for 1 minute.
To serve, add ice to 2 copper cocktail mugs (preferably 1 oversized ice cube or sphere per mug, as they melt more slowly than crushed ice). Divide the cocktail evenly between the mugs.
Spear 4-5 cranberries (from the simple syrup) on a small rosemary stem, and place on top of a mug. Repeat for second mug. Garnish with a lime wedge or 2 and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve at once.
BUTTERNUT, SAUSAGE, CARAMELIZED ONION AND CRANBERRY CROSTATA
This free-form, savory open-faced tart is a celebration of fall. I made it with butternut squash, pork sausage and cranberries from Colby Farm in Newbury. The local butternut was peeled, cubed and packaged, and the sausage, free of hormones and antibiotics, is fresh as can be. Although the farm does not grow and harvest the cranberries itself, the fruit is native, seasonal and vibrant. For ease of preparation, you can substitute fresh, whole cranberries, but I highly recommend making the honeyed cranberries.
For the crust:
11/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold, cubed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
5-7 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the filling:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large Vidalia onion, finely diced
Ground black pepper
2 cups peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes
10 ounces pork sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or sage leaves, minced
1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon ground chile pepper flakes (optional)
For the honeyed cranberries:
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup local honey
1 cup water
Place the cranberries, honey and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to blend until the water comes to a gentle simmer. Do not boil, or the cranberries will burst. Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool completely, approximately 2 hours. Drain, and reserve the liquid and cranberries separately.
Meanwhile, prepare the dough. Sift the flour, cornmeal and salt together in a medium, chilled stainless steel bowl. Add the cubed butter, and blend together using a pastry cutter until butter is crumbly, roughly the size of peas throughout the dough. Add the thyme (if using) and 5 tablespoons of ice-cold water, mixing with your hands or a wooden spoon until just combined. Do not overmix. Add additional water, a tablespoon at a time, if dough seems dry.
Turn the dough ball onto a lightly floured surface. Press and form into a 2-inch-thick disk using your hands. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
While the dough is chilling, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low, cover and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until caramelized.
Transfer the onions to a medium bowl. Add the squash, toss to coat evenly and set aside.
Using the same skillet, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook until no longer pink, 4-5 minutes. Turn off heat, and pour over the caramelized onion-squash mixture. Set aside to cool while you prepare your dough.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lightly flour a counter, and place the chilled dough onto the floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin to a 12-inch to 14-inch round or oval shape (it will not be perfect).
Wrap dough back around your rolling pin, and transfer to prepared baking sheet; spread out. Spoon the filling onto the center of your dough, leaving a border of 11/2 to 2 inches. Scatter 1/2 cup of the honeyed cranberries, the goat cheese and minced thyme or sage evenly over the filling.
Fold the edges loosely back over the filling, crimping as needed. Brush the crust with egg wash. Bake for 30 minutes, then cover the crostata loosely with foil and bake for 15 minutes longer.
Remove from oven, allowing it to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a large wooden cutting board. Cut into wedges. Top with additional salt, black pepper and pepper flakes if desired.
FESTIVE CHOCOLATE-CRANBERRY LAYER CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE FROSTING
The ultra-moist layers of this deep, dark, super-chocolaty cake are slathered in tart and juicy cranberry purée. The jewel-toned filling not only looks beautiful, it provides an element of acidity in every bite, cutting through some of the richness. The decadent whipped chocolate ganache frosting takes it to the next level. This showstopper dessert is not complex, but it does require many steps, planning, time and patience. You will need to prepare the cranberry sauce and chocolate ganache hours in advance, in order for them to thicken and cool completely. Your layer cakes must also be completely cooled before frosting. If you plan to serve this for Thanksgiving dessert, I highly recommend you prepare each component a day or two in advance. All can be tightly sealed in plastic wrap and refrigerated (the layer cakes can be frozen). Just make sure to remove them all from the refrigerator a few hours in advance to bring them all to room temperature before layering, whipping, spreading, frosting and serving. Any leftovers will stay moist and delicious for up to a week if refrigerated in an airtight container. Cranberry sauce stays fresh and vibrant for weeks. I hope you and whomever you invite into your heart and home over the holidays will find this labor of love worth the effort.
For the cake:
13/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
13/4 cups light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 local eggs (or 2 if using extra-large eggs)
1 cup hot dark roast coffee, freshly brewed
For the cranberry sauce:
4 cups fresh, whole cranberries
1 cup tangerine juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoons tangerine zest
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey (optional)
For the frosting:
16 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (60% cacao)
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum, brandy or Chambord (optional)
Honeyed cranberries, for garnish (see directions above)
Place the cranberry sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring gently with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes.
Increase heat to medium, stirring as your cranberries begin to pop and the sauce thickens. Continue cooking for 15-20 minutes longer. Remove from heat, and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Allow to cool completely at room temperature, 3-4 hours.
Once sauce has cooled, scoop out 1 cup for the cake batter, and set aside. Purée the remaining sauce with an immersion blender until silky and completely smooth. Cover, and set aside.
To make the frosting, place the chopped chocolate in a large tempered glass bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges (watch closely, heavy cream bubbles over and scalds quickly and easily). Pour hot cream mixture all over chocolate.
Cover the bowl, and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes. Stir gently until all chocolate has melted and is fully blended. Add vanilla and liquor (if using). Stir to combine. Allow to cool for 1/2 hour.
Place plastic wrap directly over the surface of the ganache, covering completely. Allow mixture to thicken and cool completely, at room temperature, for 3-4 hours.
Heat the oven to 360 degrees. Rub three 8-inch round cake pans with butter, and line each with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place the buttermilk, vanilla, brown sugar and vegetable oil in a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, scraping the edges until well combined, no lumps. Add the eggs 1 at a time until fully blended. Pour in the hot coffee, and mix for 1 minute.
Reduce speed to medium-low, and slowly add dry ingredients (in 3 equal parts), scraping sides and bottom with a rubber spatula. Add the reserved 1 cup cranberry sauce, mixing until just combined, 30 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly among the prepared cake pans.
Bake for 30 minutes. Promptly remove from oven, and run a knife around the cake’s edges (doing so immediately helps prevent cracking). Allow to cool for 1/2 hour, then remove from cake pans and transfer to a wire rack at room temperature. Peel off and discard parchment paper.
If preparing in advance, wrap each cake tightly in plastic wrap to freeze or refrigerate until 2-3 hours before prepping.
To frost and serve, whip the cooled, thickened chocolate ganache mixture using a hand mixer set to medium-high for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping sides once. Do not overmix, or the cream will break and lose its creamy, glossy texture.
Place a small dab of frosting on the center of your platter or cake stand. Flip your layer cake over (“bottoms up” for a level surface). Place thin strips of parchment paper underneath the edges of your cake.
Pour 1 cup of cranberry purée over the cake, and spread in an even layer, covering the entire surface of the cake. Top with 11/2 cups ganache frosting, spreading gently in an outward motion with an offset spatula (or the back of a spoon) in an even layer over the purée. Top with a second inverted layer cake, and repeat with a layer of cranberry purée and frosting. Top with third and final cake, and pile high with remaining frosting (do not add purée to top layer).
Gradually swirl and spread frosting over the top and down the sides in a thick, even layer. Remove parchment strips underneath the base of the cake. Garnish with honeyed cranberries and raw cane sugar crystals (if desired).
Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature, with whipped cream if desired.
Allison Lehane lives in Newbury, where she is a home cook who is passionate about locally sourced ingredients. Her recipes have been inspired by her world travels through her former career as an international home fashion buyer for TJX Corp. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.