The cranberry ought to be alien to Southern cooking, but it is not. It's an evergreen dwarf shrub that is grown in the bogs of the far and cold northern states and Canada.
It also is another gift from the New World and was given to starving European setters by the Native Americans, who used it as an ingredient in pemmican, the super rich food made of fat and protein that helped many a cold fellow to make it through the winter.
The English settlers in Massachusetts may have been the first to include cranberries in Thanksgiving celebrations. They harvested cranberries from the wild bogs, but it wasn't until the early 1800s that the first berries were cultivated, and shortly after that they became so popular they were shipped around the world.
The cranberry is a nutritious food and is loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber, but its real claim to fame is its sharp and delicious flavor. The demise of the cranberry is that it is used primarily as a sauce, and has been since the late 1600s. Certainly there is nothing wrong with a good fresh cranberry sauce, but there is so more you can do with it.
If you are a fan of limoncello, the famous Italian liqueur, you will see it isn't much of a leap to substitute cranberries for lemon rind. Frances Mayes gives us a delicious and simple recipe for limoncello in her cookbook, "The Tuscan Sun Cookbook," and it is the foundation for the recipe listed below.
1 pound fresh cranberries
1 quart vodka
2 cups sugar
1 quart water
Combine the cranberries and the vodka in a jar or bottle that seals well and keep it in the refrigerator for at least a week. Some fans of this drink think a month is the right amount of time, but that is a personal decision. Play with it. Make sure to give the jar a little shake several times a day. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the cranberries out of the vodka, allow the syrup to cool then mix the two together. Pour into re-sealable bottles and store in the refrigerator. This drink will keep almost forever. Some people like to add a vanilla bean to this recipe.
CRANBERRIES AND WILD RICE
4 cups water
3/4 cup wild rice
3/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 pinch dried thyme
1 tablespoon best quality olive oil
3-4 cloves chopped garlic
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Combine the water and wild rice, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about one hour. Make sure to taste and insure it is done before removing. Heat a large sauté pan, add the oil and sauté the onion and cranberries, seasoned with the thyme for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Combine this
mixture with the cooked rice and the pine nuts, taste and season as necessary. You can use pecans if you do not want to use the pine nuts and if you want to spice this dish up a bit add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.
HOLIDAY STUFFING WITH CRANBERRIES
4 cups Panko bread crumbs
3/4 pound chopped smoked sausage
1 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 to 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 to 2 pinches dried thyme
1 apple, cored and cubed
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup best quality turkey or chicken stock (homemade is always best)
4 tablespoons best quality butter
In a large sauté pan cook the sausage until starting to brown, add the onion and celery and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Add the sage, rosemary and thyme and cook 2-3 minute more, just to awaken their flavors. Combine the remaining ingredients and mix until the butter has melted. Stuff your turkey with this mixture and bake as director or place in the mixture in a ovenproof half hotel pan (6 by 10 inch pan, about 2- 1/2 inches deep) and bake at 350 degrees until well browned. If you are baking the stuffing without the turkey consider dotting the top with butter.
CRANBERRY ICE CREAM
3 cups frozen cranberries
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cranberry vodka (see recipe on Page 1D)
Simmer the cranberries in about one half a cup of water until they are done and very soft. Add them and any leftover water to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the cream and milk to a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until well incorporated. Remove the cream from the stove and whisk in the egg yolks and sugar. Put the sauce pan back on the stove and heat until the mixture thickens. In another large bowl combine the cranberries and the cream mixture, then chill for several hours. Proceed with your ice cream machines instructions.
CRANBERRY TRAIL MIX
This is a great snack to have around the house for the holidays. It is good hot or cold or just out of the oven.
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 cup almonds
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
4-6 tablespoons local honey
Combine all of the ingredients, add a pinch or two of salt. Line an sheet pan with parchment paper, spread the mixture evenly and bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes.