If you have ever known anyone from Massachusetts you know where almost all of our cranberries, (in the USA), come from. If you've been Touched you have seen the crimson berries on the surface of flooded bogs, water reflecting flat outrageous cobalt skies in the shiny clear cold air of fall, on a thin harsh winter's cusp, and it's newly naked trees. Men in black rubber outfits from the chest down wading slowly through them and the barely industrialized machines whose whale-like mouths scoop up the water and berries, holding only onto the red treasure.
Who is this creature the cranberry? Zesty! Alive! Sour! Thanksgiving staple, drunk with pectin, comes only once a year by the tons. Add all the sugar and water you want but if you leave it alone it molds to the container and plops! into the dish with a definitive thud. The cranberry is the hard working, working class berry. Who else grows in those cold and eccentric conditions? They build a bog, plant the low lying shrub, flood it in winter, freeze it solid enough for my father and countless other hardy New Englanders to ice skate across its protected home, let spring thaw it out, give the bush a little nudge in fall so that those buoyant cranberry orbs float innocently to the top, bobbing along as if they have all the time in the world. Cranberry harvesting is a stunning agricultural ritual.
Cold though, yes, I wouldn't want to be walking through that water, no way, no how.
If you need to see what it's all about check out Cranberry World, in Plymouth Massachusetts, a place I spent way to many afternoons in while visiting the late Alice Joyce Lydon. Not much to do in Plymouth after you've seen all the pilgrim stuff.
I really love this recipe I am about to impart. It's easy. A one bowl operation. It's a pleasing gift, sells well in a bakery, is yum for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a middle of the night snack. I prefer it toasted with butter, but you do whatever you want with it.
Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Bread
Preheat oven to 350 F, butter baking tin (s) well
all purpose flour 3 cups
sugar 1 cup
baking Powder 3 1/4 teaspoon
kosher salt 1 1/4 teaspoon
orange zest from 2 oranges
orange juice 1 cup
beaten eggs 4
melted butter 2 1/2 oz.
walnuts, lightly toasted 3/4 cup
cranberries 2 1/2 cups
Sift drys into a bowl, mix with whisk to incorporate
Make well in center
Pour all wets & orange zest into well
Mix from the center out, gently, with a wooden spoon or spatula
RIGHT before mixture looks uniform, dump in nuts and cranberries
Fold in walnuts and cranberries
If you are using more than one tin it's best to weigh them so that the same amount of batter goes into each one. Batter is clumpy, tap a few times on counter so that it settles better. Set your first timer for about 20 minutes, and when it goes off turn them so that they face the other direction (like suntanning.)
I bake mine in 4 little quick-bread pans so that the toasts are cuter. I always bake everything on a 1/2 sheet pan (= cookie sheet) so, 1. it's easier to take them in and out of the oven, 2. things tend to bake more evenly, 3. turning them 1/2 way through the baking time is easier, 4. I'm anal like that.
These babies are done when a skewer or sharp knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. In my very slow oven this took almost an hour, but I kept a very keen eye on them.
If you want something a little sweeter you can increase the sugar, (a 1/4 cup at a time), or make a little glaze for them. But this is more like a bread with a walloping surprise of tart red berries, gorgeous gratuitous meaty walnuts and the soft cheek of an orange whisper to tie it all together.
"A alligators all around B bursting balloons C catching colds D doing dishes
E entertaining elephants ..."
Alligators All Around, Maurice Sendak