- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fresh cranberries crowd the market this time of year, a sure sign that fall is in its full glory. It would be a shame to enjoy cranberries only at Thanksgiving or to stick to the tried-and-true recipes. Cranberries make fine relishes and chutneys and impart a tangy flavor and burnished glow to a basting sauce. The jewellike berries also add crunch and zest to cornbread stuffing, or they can be dried like raisins and mixed with nuts for a toothsome snack.

Cranberries are indigenous to North America, and the country’s earliest European settlers spotted the fruit, which was unknown back home, growing wild in New England. The settlers were captivated by the berries’ visually stunning pink, fluffy blossoms, which they said resembled the hooked-necked and beaked cranes hanging out in the bogs in Cape Cod. They promptly named the fruit “craneberries,” which eventually evolved to cranberries.

The cultivation of the wild berries began in the early 1800s, and today a plethora of cranberry products are on the market year round, including frozen whole berries, jellied cranberry sauce, unsweetened cranberry juice, cranberry juice cocktail, dried cranberries, plus a slew of cranberry-infused trail mixes and condiments for nibbling.

Fresh cranberries’ peak season lasts until the end of the year, so don’t forget to pop a few containers in the freezer; they keep for months and can be turned into a favorite dish in minutes.

Cranberry-apricot relish

I love this relish as a topping for smoked turkey or ham sandwiches, with leftover chicken and roasted turkey.

12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, about 3 cups

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup sugar (or to taste) or mild honey, such as clover

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger or 2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or allspice

1 cup dried apricots, quartered or coarsely chopped

1/4 cup gold or dark Bacardi rum

Pick over the cranberries, discarding shriveled berries and stems. Rinse well and drain. Combine the water, sugar, ginger and cinnamon or allspice in a medium-size saucepan.

Place the pan on the heat and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, or just until the syrup thickens and the ginger is tender.

Stir in the cranberries and the apricots and cook, stirring, until the berries begin to “pop.” Immediately reduce heat to low, add the rum, and simmer the sauce about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until most of the berries have popped but the fruit is still firm and has texture. Don’t cook the sauce into a mush.

Remove the sauce from the heat and cool to room temperature for serving. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container — preferably a glass jar — for at least two weeks, but allow it to warm to room temperature before serving. Makes about 3 cups for 6 to 8 servings.

Cranberry-orange upside-down cake

3/4 cup light brown sugar, divided

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau, or orange juice

2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel,

2 teaspoons cardamom seeds, finely crushed or ground

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt, at room temperature

1/2 cup orange juice

Lightly butter the sides of a 9-by 2-inch round cake pan and set aside. Place 1/2 cup of the brown sugar and the softened butter into a medium-size bowl. Using a hand mixer at medium-high speed, beat the mixture until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula at least once.

Scrape the creamed butter and sugar into the cake pan. Using a metal spatula, spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Set aside the cake pan, and reserve the mixing bowl to use to mix the cake batter.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, cranberries, liqueur or juice, grated orange peel and crushed cardamom seeds in a medium saucepan. Mix well and place on high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring briskly. Cook for 1 minute, then immediately remove the pan from the heat, and allow to cool.

Spoon the cranberry mixture into the cake pan over the creamed butter and sugar and spread evenly with a metal spatula. Set the pan aside and prepare the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together onto a sheet of wax paper, foil or plate the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Combine the 1 stick of butter, sugar and vanilla extract in the reserved mixing bowl. Using the electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Beat in the eggs, scraping the bowl after each addition, then beat the batter about 1 minute longer.

Stir together the buttermilk or yogurt and orange juice and mix well. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk or yogurt mixture alternately to the bowl, beginning with the dry ingredients, stirring only briefly after each addition. Then, set the mixer on medium speed and beat for 30 seconds, scraping the bowl at least once.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and spread evenly over the cranberries. Shake the pan a couple of times to settle the batter. Place on the middle shelf in the center of the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean but moist and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack. Let the cake cool for 10 to 12 minutes, no longer.

Loosen the edges of the cake with a thin metal spatula or knife. Place a round serving platter or cake plate over the cake pan and invert. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

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