By Emily Paster
The Oak Park Farmers Market ended recently. I'm always so sad to see the market end for the season. Not only does it mean the end of my Saturday mornings spent browsing beautiful, locally grown fruits and vegetables, but also it is a sure sign that winter is on its way. On the last day of the market, I try to buy fruits and veggies that will freeze or keep well in an effort to prolong the season a little longer. This year, on the last day of the market, I bought root vegetables, like butternut squash and celery root, that will keep for weeks in the fridge; a half-bushel of assorted heirloom varieties of apples for eating, baking and canning; a dozen red peppers which I will can in a marinade; and cranberries — lots of cranberries because these babies freeze like a dream.
Growing up, I always thought of cranberries as a New England crop. We used to visit the island of Nantucket every year when was a little girl and Nantucket is famous for its cranberry bogs. But when I moved to the Midwest, I was happy to learn that nearby Wisconsin has its own cranberry bogs and actually produces half of the U.S. cranberry crop. Really, cranberries just like cold climates.
I adore baking and canning with fresh cranberries. At $5 for a large container, cranberries are one of the cheaper fruits you find at the farmers market or even the grocery store. And, as I mentioned, these berries freeze very well, particularly since you are not likely to eat them raw, but rather use them for baking and cooking. Cranberries split during baking but retain their shape in a very pleasing way. Cranberries pair well with oranges and another great fall fruit, apples. Experiment with an apple-cranberry cobbler or crisp and throw some orange zest in for good measure. Or, try this recipe for a Cranberry Buckle with a Blood Orange Glaze that I posted last year. Cranberries are tart, as I am sure you know, so this is not the time for low-sugar baking.
Of course, many of us only eat cranberries once a year at Thanksgiving. That's fine too. Not everyone has to love this quintessentially American berry. But if you are buying that jellied cranberry sauce from a can, you are missing out on how good real cranberry sauce can be. For years, my mother bought fancy-sounding cranberry relishes and chutneys from her favorite gourmet markets for our Thanksgiving table — and one jar of the jellied stuff for my dad who had a soft spot for it. It was a bit of a family joke. But for the past few years, I've made a homemade cranberry sauce flavored with ginger and orange zest from fresh cranberries bought at the Oak Park Farmers Market and it's better than any cranberry sauce from the store.
Although I make my cranberry sauce in late October or early November and can it for shelf-stability, you do not need to be a canner to make this recipe. Just make it closer to Thanksgiving and keep it in the refrigerator until your holiday dinner. This recipe makes four pints, which is more than one family needs, so if you do not plan to can the cranberry sauce, you can either give some away to your neighbors for their Thanksgiving tables or cut the recipe in half.
Of course, there is no rule saying that we can only eat cranberry sauce once a year. This sauce would be good on turkey sandwiches or roasted meats all year round. It would also make a fine accompaniment to a cheese tray. I can see it being delicious with a sharp cheddar, such as Cabot Coop Creamery's Seriously Sharp Cheddar.
Orange-Ginger Cranberry Relish
Makes four pints
- 4 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- 3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 6 whole cloves
- 8 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- Zest of one orange
- 1/2 cup ginger liqueur, rum or brandy (optional)
- 1 TB ground ginger
- If you are planning to can the cranberry sauce, prepare your water-bath canner, four pint jars and lids.
- Tie cinnamon sticks and cloves in cheesecloth to make a spice bag.
- Combine sugar, water and spice bag in a large, deep stock pot and bring to a boil. stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Boil sugar syrup for five minutes.
- Add cranberries, orange zest, ginger and liqueur (if using) and return to a boil.
- Reduce heat and boil gently until the cranberries have split and the liquid begins to thicken, about fifteen minutes. (Do not worry if the sauce is still very liquid at this point. Cranberries are high in pectin and the sauce will take on a more gelled consistency once it cools.)
- If canning the sauce for shelf-stability, ladle the sauce into the hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
- Be sure to bubble the jars and wipe the rims clean.
- Place a warm lid on each jar and tighten ring just until you feel resistance.
- Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
- Turn off heat, remove lid and allow jars to sit in water an additional five minutes.
- Remove jars from water.
- Ensure that lids have sealed. Refrigerate any unsealed jars.
- If you are not processing the sauce for shelf-stability, you can simply allow the sauce to cool and ladle it into four clean pint jars and store in the refrigerator.