There’s more to fresh cranberries than sauce
Cranberry sauce, made from fresh cranberries, is a staple of my holiday table. The recipe is right on the package: one pound fresh cranberries, one cup sugar, one cup water, and then I add a little lemon juice and lemon zest. Twenty minutes later, the sauce is ready to be spooned into the special cut glass bowl I use every year. Sometimes I make cranberry nut bread with the recipe printed on the package of fresh cranberries.
Past that, I haven’t ever given fresh cranberries much more thought.
However, a recent trip to Wisconsin to see the cranberry harvest firsthand was a revelation, not only because of what I learned about the farming of cranberries and their agricultural history but what I discovered about the diversity of cooking with fresh cranberries.
First of all, I was told by proud Wisconsin farmers, that their state accounts for more than 60 percent of the cranberries grown in the United States, more than Massachusetts and that in Wisconsin we do not say bogs, but marshes. Bog is the term used in Massachusetts. The cranberry is native to the region, and has been cultivated since the 1800s.
According to the story, the first cranberry plantings were made when a settler dug up some cranberry-laden sod and planted it on his property. Today there are more than 180,000 acres of cranberry marshes in the state, but interestingly enough, of those, only 21,000 acres are planted in cranberries. The rest of the acreage, called support land, is natural and man-made wetlands, woodlands, and uplands, with a network of ditches, dikes, dame, and reservoirs to provide the water supply necessary for cranberry production.
Driving along what is called “The Cranberry Highway,” I could see large patches of crimson red — my first glimpse of the fruit — but once off the highway, heading deep into the production area, I was stunned by the sight of acres of red berries bobbing on top of the water.
It was explained to me that the berries do not grow in water, as I had previously thought, but in low-lying beds. The plants themselves are low-growing perennial vines. At harvest time in the fall, the beds are flooded with one to two feet of water. The ripe berries float to the top where they are raked by mechanical equipment, captured by booms, and uploaded to the waiting trucks. Men and women in hip-high waders were in the water, guiding the berries into the chutes for uploading. I was offered the opportunity to don a pair of waders and have a go, but I declined.
During my trip, I ate fresh cranberries every day, prepared in a number of different ways, from cranberry glazed duck breast to cranberry ice cream and croutons, but my two favorites were Apple Cranberry Compote which was served on top of oven-roasted salmon, and a Fresh Cranberry and Walnut Tart that tasted like the sour cherry pies of my childhood.
After the trip and all I experienced, I have a different view of fresh cranberries, their history and what goes into their production. I’ve got another month to cook with them, which I plan to do. I’m also going to buy several bags to freeze. They can be treated as fresh, as long as they are going to be cooked, as in the compote or tart below.
Fresh Cranberry and Walnut Tart
1 ½ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup cold butter
1 large egg yolk
1 ½ tablespoons ice water
3 large eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup corn syrup
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
To prepare the crust.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend the cold butter into the flour mixture until it is the texture of coarse meal. Mix in the egg yolk, and ice water. Mix with your hands until smooth. Form into a ball and chill one hour.
Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll the dough out into a round 1/8 inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter, or large enough to fit into a 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Chill 30 minutes. Line with foil and add pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes then remove pie weights and let cool.
To prepare filling
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and vanilla. Stir in the walnuts and cranberries.
Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry shell, and cover with foil. Bake 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes.
Serves 8 to 10
Recipe courtesy of Elm Lake Cranberries, Wisconsin
Apple Cranberry Compote
This is very easy to make.
3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced small
4 ounces fresh cranberries
1 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup water
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberry has gelled and the apples are tender, about 45 minutes. Serve over salmon or to accompany pork, chicken, or beef.
Recipe courtesy L’Ecole de la Maison, Osthoff Resort, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Georgeanne Brennan, who made the cranberry trip, lives in Winters, where she writes and oversees her new entrepreneurial adventure, La Vie Rustic – an on-line store with kitchen and garden products in the French style. www.lavierustic.com
Ann M. Evans writes and draws in Davis, and watches over her beehives, chickens and garden. www.annmevans.com.
Together they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC. Follow their blog, Who’s Cooking School Lunch? (www.whoscookingschoolunch.com) Or reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.