Just a few more days until one of my favorite holidays, one centered on food and family and gratitude for all the wonderful things we have.
The first recorded Thanksgiving feast was in 1621 when the colonists around Plymouth gathered in their first successful harvest. Since a great deal of the credit was due to the local Wampanoag tribe, the colony decided to have a great feast with their neighbors.
Now, while they may have had turkeys, they would have been wild turkeys, so no — they didn’t argue over a drumstick the size of a baseball bat like we do. What they did have was fresh venison, ducks, geese, swans, and a wide variety of seafood. Mussels were abundant, as well as cod and bass. The one thing that I don’t think will catch on here is that they had lots of eel! I can imagine the look on the local butchers face if you asked for that!
They had a lot of fresh produce — well —this was a harvest celebration after all. No potatoes or other tubers at the time, but they did have berries — one of which is the lovely tart cranberry.
Cranberries were probably used very sparingly as sugar was a luxury at the time, but very thankfully (see what I did there?) we don’t have that restriction today! It was probably around 1670 that sugar was available enough that cranberry sauce made it on the scene. It was reported as “a tart sauce to eat with meats.”
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thanks Abe — great choice!
While some people think cranberry sauce comes in a cylinder with rings on it, I’m going to show you a very easy recipe that you can make up to a week in advance and store in the fridge.
Cranberry Walnut Sauce12 oz fresh cranberries
1 large orange
½ cup medium chopped walnuts
½ cup cranberry juice
½ cup honey
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
First step will be to zest and juice the orange. The zest is the oil bearing skin of citrus fruit. I use a microplane zester, but a cheese grater will work. After we zest the orange, set aside the zest and juice the orange by whatever method works best for you, with the understanding that we don’t really want any of the fibrous parts of the orange in the juice. You should have about ½ cup or so. Set the juice aside
We are going to rinse off the cranberries now — not that I don’t trust a giant conglomerate to adequately do the job, but — well, OK, I don’t!
Once the berries are rinsed put them in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ½ cup cranberry juice. Now if you happen to have a nice buttery chardonnay open, it would not be wrong to put a splash (1/4 cup-ish) in, but the recipe doesn’t need it. Add the orange juice and let it all come to a low boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
You want the berries to get soft, so you will see some of them bursting in the pan as it cooks. Give it a couple of minutes at as low a simmer as you can get, but don’t let it cook dry! As always, stir constantly. At this point add the cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, walnuts, and sugar and let it simmer for a couple of minutes more. The sauce should be nice and thick as the pectin in the berries thicken up everything. Remove from heat and let cool.
At this point it is ready to serve, but it is better if it cools overnight and the flavors marry. As I stated before, this holds very well and will last in a covered container for a week. Now, pour a glass of that chardonnay, get on your stretchy waisted pants, and dig into your Thanksgiving feast.
Until next time
Dave is a retired local chef whose family members are willing guinea pigs for his food adventures