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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations Part I

   Thanksgiving is almost here. Probably the biggest food holiday of all! And a tradition in this country since 1621. Or so we are lead to believe. I am taking an early American History class and things I am learning now are news to me. Maybe because when I first learned history I was a child, trying to find out who I was, and my place in this big world. Certain things evaded me. Okay, many things evaded me. And I have learned that the talking point headlines of yesteryear do not paint an accurate picture of everything that was going on. But I am not going to go into a history lesson here, that's another blog out there, somewhere. I thought that over the course of the next few days I would share with you some of my recipes, and, well, whatever else may pop into my head that I think you might find entertaining, or maybe educational. We'll see where it goes, how's that?
   Let's start with cranberry sauce. All while growing up I remember cranberry sauce, jellied, sitting in a bowl in the shape of the can it came out of. My mom would slice the roll into 1/4 inch slices, so when you took some cranberry "sauce" there would be a round slab of red stiff jelly on your plate. That's how I thought cranberry sauce was supposed to look.
   Then, when I got a little older and ventured to other family's thanksgivings I learned there was something call "whole berry" cranberry sauce. Mixed in the "jelly" were berries of the "cran" variety, and this stuff did not come out of its can in a formed lump. Very interesting and dang, good!
   Fast forward about a hundred years, years that included both the jellied and whole berry versions on my Thanksgiving table. Then, just about five years ago I decided to make my own cranberry sauce. They wouldn't sell bags of whole cranberries by the truckload if this was a difficult task. So I bought my first bag of cranberries and set out to make my own.
   Upon researching how to make cranberry "relish" I was shocked to see most recipes required on three ingredients: cranberries, rinsed and picked through for mushy ones or the occasional stem, water, and sugar. Of course some recipes got exotic, so I quickly dismissed those. A few recipes included orange, either grated peel, or strips of peel, and/or chopped up orange segments. That sounded interesting.
   So you wash and pick through your three cups of cranberries while you have one cup of water and one cup of sugar on the stove. the sugar-water concoction come up to a boil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. I quickly realized is a light syrup. Interesting. I grated the peel of half an orange, and cut slices from the other half, avoiding the pith (that bitter white stuff under the peel but before the flesh), like you do for marmalade. When the sugar-water comes to a boil, add the cranberries and the orange peel. Keep it up to a boil, stirring.
    Within minutes you will start hearing this popping sound. The cranberries are bursting, letting their pectin go, just stir and continue on for ten minutes, if you want a little tighter concoction just stir and boil until the stuff gets thick, however, it gels up pretty good without much help. Remove from the heat and pour into a glass bowl or container. Allow to fully cool to room temperature without covering. Then when it is room temperature, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
    Upon completing my first batch of whole berry cranberry sauce I looked at my husband and said, "I cannot believe we have bought this all these years and it is so easy to make." We have never bought it again. I usually buy a big 3-pound bag once a year. Take out what I need for Thanksgiving, and then seal the bag and toss it in the freezer. You can use these babies in muffins and scones without thawing them out, just add more sugar to your recipe because they are bitter in their natural state.
    So next time you want cranberry sauce, why not give it a try? I'd like to see some of your cranberry recipes if you want to share. I'm always looking for ideas.

Whole berry Cranberry relish