In the nineties there was a rock group called The Cranberries. They choose a very good name because, as any cook knows, cranberries rock.
Cranberries, with their skins of shocking lipstick red, must have always drawn admirers with ease, but those first tasters must have been mighty surprised when they experienced the fruit's lip-puckering tartness.
No doubt the early settlers learned about the edibility of this native North American berry from the Native Americans themselves, who tamed the tartness by combining cranberries with deer meat and fat to enhance the taste and nutritive value of their dried pemmican.
Cranberries, liked many natural beauties, are very particular about their habitat. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Association, the berries "can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November." My hunch is that some smart marketing person ran a campaign suggesting that cranberry sauce made the ideal companion to roast turkey. According to this logic, all of the cranberries would be bought up by the end of the growing season.
The three-way marriage of turkey, cranberry sauce, and Thanksgiving is both good and bad: good because we are guaranteed some terrific fresh cranberry dishes at least once a year. Bad, because if we forget to stock up on fresh cranberries in November and freeze them, we have to wait another year to find them again. (I know, dried cranberries are now available year 'round, but they ain't the same.)
This year I got really lucky. In late October, five pounds of organic cranberries arrived at my doorstep from Cranberry Hill Organic Farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts, compliments of LocalHarvest. I can assure you that I haven't waited until Thanksgiving to start cooking with them, and I certainly won't forget to freeze a pound or two for trying out new recipes in 2008.
If you've never made cranberry relish, you are going to be amazed at how quick and easy it is. The entire process takes about 15 minutes.
In this version, I have avoided using oodles of refined sugar by cooking the cranberries in orange juice concentrate and adding some raisins. Crystallized ginger gives this relish special zest.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
Blend the orange concentrate into the water in a heavy-bottomed, 3-quart pot. Set over high heat. Add the cranberries, raisins, and 1/3 cup ginger.
When the liquid starts to boil, lower the heat slightly and boil uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl or glass storage container. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger, orange zest, and agave syrup or honey to taste, if desired. When the mixture has cooled, stir in the pecans. Chill until needed, up to 5 days. Serve at room temperature.
Recipe copyright, Lorna Sass, 2007