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Tinky’s Kitchen: Rubies of the Thanksgiving table

  • Weisblat adds the finishing touches to her cranberry chipotle spread. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat poses with her cranberry apple crumb pie. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat whips up her cranberry chipotle spread in her Hawley kitchen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat is ready for Thanksgiving. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat whips up some cranberry chipotle spread in her Hawley kitchen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky Weisblat poses with her cranberry apple crumb pie. Recreate this dish at home using the recipe in today’s column. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky’s cranberry apple crumb pie. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Those of us who aren’t strict locavores have gotten used to eating produce that isn’t growing around us right now. Salad lover that I am, I purchase greens at grocery stores all year round.

Certain foods are only available in season, however. My beloved rhubarb comes up in the spring in our hills and occasionally makes a cameo appearance in fall. If it’s not growing nearby, we can’t purchase or eat it.

Cranberries are similarly restricted. Although their shelf life is longer than that of rhubarb, they simply aren’t sold in stores after their fall season. In September, I begin calling grocery stores to ask whether cranberries have arrived. Once they do appear on shelves, I go crazy for cranberries.

I make sauce. I make pies and tarts. I freeze the berries. I revel in redness.

There are many reasons to recommend eating cranberries. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. New England sailors used to consume them on sea journeys to avoid scurvy. They abound with flavor (albeit flavor that needs a little sweetening!).

And, they are simply gorgeous. I think of them as the rubies of the Thanksgiving table.

Unlike many other popular fruits, the American cranberry is native to our continent. Native Americans combined ground cranberries with venison to make pemmican — a portable high-energy food.

When English settlers arrived on these shores, they quickly adopted the berries as their own, not just to eat, but as medicine. They learned from the original Americans to apply ground cranberries to wounds to keep them from getting infected.

My friend Kathleen Wall, colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation, believes that cranberries might have appeared on the table at the first Thanksgiving. She emphatically denies that cranberry sauce was present. It hadn’t yet been invented.

Food writer Hank Shaw dates the first written reference to cranberry sauce to 1808. The increasing popularity of that sauce probably owed a lot to the new availability of reasonably priced sugar in the 19th century. Historian Clifford Foust notes:

“By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Caribbean sugar had declined in price so far over the preceding century that its consumption had risen enormously….

“Sugar, in its several forms, made possible the widespread use and enjoyment of formerly shunned fruits and vegetables, whose sour tastes were too disagreeable for ordinary use, no matter how healthful they may have been. Sugar also contributed to their preservation in glass or tins ...”

In 1912, Marcus Urann, a lawyer turned cranberry grower, decided to try canning cranberry sauce. This innovation boosted cranberry cultivation here in New England. In my opinion, however, it represented a step backward in cranberry cuisine.

I blush to admit that my cousin Alan, who often hosts Thanksgiving for our clan, insists on serving canned cranberry sauce. The ridges from the can take him back to his mother’s kitchen. (She was a lovely woman, but not much of a cook.)

I always bring homemade sauce to his house and defiantly place it on the table alongside the canned version. Canned sauce lacks the color and flavor that define cranberries to me.

Making basic cranberry sauce couldn’t be easier — and it can be done well in advance of Thanksgiving dinner. I usually just follow the directions on commercial bags of cranberries, although I sometimes add flavorful items like orange or cinnamon.

Below, I share a couple of recipes for other cranberry lovers. The cranberry chipotle spread may be served with meat, crackers or apples. It may also be used to stuff celery. This gorgeous pink substance packs just a little heat.

I have never encountered a Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t include pie. My cranberry apple crumb pie comes together quickly and makes a tasty addition to the holiday table.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry chipotle spread

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

3 cups (12 ounces) cranberries

2 to 3 chipotles in adobo from a can (plus a little of the adobo sauce), chopped

1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature

A few chopped pecans, toasted or candied

Instructions:

Begin early in the day, or even a day ahead. In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring them to a boil. Add the cranberries and chipotles and return the mixture to the boil.

Reduce the heat, and boil until the cranberries pop, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the sauce seems too fuzzy, add a tiny amount of butter.)

Remove the mixture from the heat, cool it to room temperature, and then puree the sauce in a blender. Refrigerate it until it is needed.

When you are ready to make your spread, whip the cream cheese using an electric mixer. Beat in some of the chipotle-flavored cranberry sauce to taste. (Start with ½-cup and see how you like it.) If you want your spread to have more of a chipotle taste, stir in more of the adobo sauce.

Refrigerate until ready to use. You will have extra sauce which you can use for more spread or serve on the side of meat or poultry.

Sprinkle the pecans on the spread just before serving.

Serves 6.

Cranberry apple crumb pie

Ingredients:

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 pinch salt

1 tablespoon flour, plus 1 cup later

3 medium apples, cored and sliced

2 cups cranberries

1 9-inch pie shell

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup (1 stick) sweet butter (you could probably get by with less, but this is Thanksgiving, for goodness’ sake!)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and tablespoon of flour. Add the fruit and toss to combine. Pour this mixture into your pie shell.

In another bowl, combine the cup of flour and brown sugar. Cut in the butter. Place this crumbly topping over your pie and pat it into place over the fruit.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350. Continue baking for 30 more minutes.

Serves 8.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of Hawley is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” For more information about Tinky visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.