Food Column: Cranberries are a true northeast treat

The waves roll on and gulls above soar high,
Lone foghorns chanting Cape Cod’s solitude.
The dunes at rest beneath the autumn sky
Envelop peaceful beaches once imbued.
Bright foliage adorns the countryside,
Surrounding sun-dried bogs of cranberries.
This summer tourists’ verdant welcome tide
Now boasts majestic hues of burgundies.
Synthetic lakes spew forth from each bog’s moat
Releasing berries for the harvest day,
And buoyant crimson carpets lie afloat
In just abeyance being scooped away
To conjure up a sauce with Ocean Spray
And have with turkey for Thanksgiving Day.

“Cranberry Sonnet”
by Nancy Ness

The cranberry, so much a part of Thanksgiving, is one of only three fruits that are native to North America. The other two are blueberries and the Concord grape. The cranberry is a wild fruit that grows on long vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Native Americans used the cranberry to make pemmican — a mixture of venison, fat and cranberries mashed together — and as a medicine to heal wounds. It is possible that it was served for that first Thanksgiving in 1621.
By the 1800s cranberries were being farmed in the Northeast. Eventually wet harvesting was developed, based on the fact that cranberries float in water. Farmers would flood the bog with water to form an artificial lake. The cranberries would float to the top, where they could be easily scooped up.
The cranberry is a very healthy fruit, being high in vitamin C and other unique compounds. Sailors learned that eating cranberries was a way to prevent scurvy. Fresh cranberries are readily available during the holiday season and can be used in a variety of recipes. Here are a few:

Duck Breast with Cranberries
Cut 2 whole boneless duck breasts (skin on) in half to make 4 portions. Trim any excess fat and score the skin in a crosshatch pattern with the tip of a knife. Season them with coarse salt and pepper and set aside.
Bring 2 cups water to a boil and add 1/4 cup sugar and 2 cups fresh cranberries. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the berries pop. Remove and drain, reserving the cranberries. (The juice can be saved for another use.)
Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat and place in it the duck breasts skin side down. Cook until skin is a rich brown color, pour off excess fat and turn down the heat. Flip the breasts over and cook until medium rare, about 5 minutes. Remove the duck and pour off all the fat. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan along with 1/4 cup minced shallots. Sauté briefly and add the reserved cranberries. Stir in 1/4 cup red wine and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan, pushing as much liquid as possible out of the cranberries. Check sauce for seasoning and slice the duck breasts, fanning them out on the plate, spooning the sauce around them.
Serves 4.

Cranberry-Apple-Pecan Pie
Begin by making a double pie crust. Place 2 cups all-purpose flour in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2/3 cup shortening. With a pastry blender, work this into a coarse cornmeal consistency. Sprinkle 1/4 cup ice water over the dough and combine lightly with a fork. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup ice water and combine. Form the dough into two equal balls with your hands and flatten each on a floured surface into a 1-inch-thick round. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling.
Peel and slice Jonagold apples to make 4 cups. Place them in a bowl along with 2 cups fresh cranberries. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest to the bowl along with 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 white sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/3 cup flour and 3/4 cup chopped pecans. Stir this mixture together and let it sit while rolling out the pastry.
Roll out the bottom crust on a floured surface and place in a 9-inch pie tin with the sides overhanging. Pour the filling into the pie tin (it will be very full) and roll out the top crust. Paint the rim of the bottom crust with water and place the top crust over all. Crimp and flute the edges and cut slits in the top. Brush lightly with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Place in a 425-degree oven and cook for 55 minutes. Put a loose piece of foil over the pie while cooking to prevent its browning too quickly. Cool and serve.
Makes 8 portions.

Cranberry Oatmeal Pancakes
These are savory pancakes that contain no sugar, but are made with old-fashioned oatmeal and fresh cranberries. They go well with sautéed pork cutlets, turkey cutlets or chicken breasts — all accompanied by cranberry sauce.
Place 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal in a bowl and add 2 cups milk. Let oatmeal soak for 10 minutes. Stir in 3 lightly beaten eggs and 3 tablespoons melted butter. Mix 1 cup flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add this to the oat mixture.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 1/4 cup canola oil. When hot, drop 1/4 cup scoops of batter into the hot pan. Sprinkle fresh cranberries over the pancakes and press them in. Turn when brown and cook another 2 minutes. Remove to a warm oven and continue to cook in batches.

Cranberry Chutney
Add 3 cups fresh cranberries to a saucepan along with 1 cup peeled, cored and diced apple and 1 cup peeled, cored and diced pear. Stir in 1 cup golden raisins and 1/2 cup water. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 3 whole cloves, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Bring to a boil and simmer slowly until berries pop, about 20 minutes. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and refrigerate. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves before serving.

Cranberry Maple Bourbon Sauce
Bring 2/3 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Add 3 cups fresh cranberries and cook until the skins pop, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in chunks. Finish the sauce by adding 1/4 cup bourbon. Serve warm with turkey, duck or chicken.
Makes 8 portions.

Turkey à la Cranberry Vodka
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add 2 cups chopped onion. Cook until soft and add 1/4 cup flour. Continue to cook for 3 minutes and stir in 1 cup cranberry-flavored vodka (you can substitute regular vodka). Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and 1 cup heavy cream. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Sauté 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter and add to the sauce. Cut leftover turkey into 1-inch chunks and add to the sauce (about 4-6 cups).
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 cups fresh cranberries and cook for 2 minutes. Remove cranberries with a slotted spoon and add them to the turkey mixture. Add 1 package of wide noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and serve with the turkey and sauce.
Note: If you don’t have leftover turkey, cook half a turkey breast in a 300-degree oven for 1 hour. Cool and remove the meat.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].