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Recipes and Stories

22 November 2014: Mastering Thanksgiving Dinner III—The Cranberries

A truly American berry for an all-American holiday, cranberries have been paired with turkey for at least four centuries.

On Thanksgiving day, practically every table across the country on which the centerpiece is our quintessentially American bird, one can almost take for granted that the turkey will be mated with another quintessentially American thing: cranberries.

And despite the hundreds, if not thousands of cranberry sauce, compote, chutney, and relish recipes that are presently cluttering the internet, most of those berries will be served straight out of a can, which is odd. Of all the things on Thanksgiving’s table, cranberry sauces and relishes are just about the easiest things in the world to make from scratch. And what’s more, they can be made completely ahead (as in this weekend while the stockpot is simmering).

If you have to make shortcuts, make them where they won’t draw attention to themselves. If the finishing touches of the meal are from scratch, everything underneath them will taste that way.

Cranberry Preserves

I’ve posted this conserve in my blog before, but it’s still my favorite. It’s also quite old: Originally developed for my first cookbook, it was based on recipes from several antebellum cookbooks, and all from the South, demonstrating that the classic combination of turkey and cranberries knew no regional boundaries.

This version, from Essentials of Southern Cooking, is how I’ve made it for more than twenty years. All I’ve done to that classic original is brighten it with orange zest. Old-fashioned it may be, but it’s still the perfect mate for turkey or game meat, and it needn’t be confined to the sauce bowl. At our house, we love it on toast, toasted pound cake, tucked into shortcake, and as a quick filling for pre-baked tart shells.

For 6–8 servings as a shortcake or tartlet filling, 12–16 as a condiment

24 ounces (6 cups) fresh cranberries
1 pound (2 cups) demerara or turbinado sugar (also sold as “raw” sugar)
Zest from 1 orange, cut into fine julienne
3 tablespoons bourbon

1. Pick through the berries and discard any soft or damaged fruit. Wash in cold water and drain. Put 2 cups in a 3- to 4-quart stainless-steel or enameled saucepan. Lightly crush them with a wooden spoon and pour in just enough water to barely cover them. Bring gently to a boil over medium heat, skimming away the foam that rises. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the berries have collapsed and the juice is thick, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat.

2. Pour the cooked fruit into a muslin jelly bag or clean piece of muslin set in a sieve over a bowl. Force the juice through the cloth into the bowl and discard the pulp. Put the juice back in the pan, stir in the remaining berries and the sugar, and bring it back to a boil over medium heat. Skim away the foam as it rises. Reduce the heat to the barest simmer and cook until the berries are very tender and transparent, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the zest and bourbon. With a clean, stainless-steel utensil, spoon or ladle the berries into a clean glass bowl or, for prolonged storage, sterile glass jars. It will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 6 weeks. For prolonged storage, can it by processing it in sterilized jars with new lids.

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