Those glorious little red globes are back in season. Thank God!
A few weeks ago, I got a hankering for cranberry bread. Tart and sweet together in one loaf. Salivating at the thought of it, I headed for the freezer, sure that I had one bag anyway, left from last year. My pout was deep enough to balance a spoon on my lip when I rummaged around and found…nothing. Well, nothing in the line of cranberries. None in the stores either.
I headed up to my hometown, the heart of cranberry country in Wisconsin, for a visit. I was all primed to purchase cranberries, fresh from the vine. Did you know Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries in the country? True!
I was staying with a friend, and we headed out to the marshes. The bogs stretched out on either side of the road like dominoes laid out on a table. The water in each huge rectangle was low, but sluice gates open to flood the bogs when cranberries are ready to harvest.
Imagine my consternation when I discovered I was three days early for the start of the harvest.
The owner filled us in. Tractors pulling a series of prongs head into the bogs at low water to stir up things so that the berries pop off the vines. Then the bogs are flooded to about 18 inches of water. Cranberries are hollow, so they float, and workers can push them to one end of each bog, where they’re scooped up and zipped away to be sorted, bagged and sold.
All very interesting, but I still didn’t have any cranberries. But then my luck changed. My friend Jackie offered me her frozen cranberries from last year’s harvest. I jumped at the chance. But I didn’t want to leave her without any. Not to worry. She already had the promise of fresh ones coming from a friend in a week or so. Bring ‘em on! She sent me home with bags of ruby-red berries. Ecstasy!
If you think the berries you get at the store are yummy, you are in for a great surprise if you can somehow snag some fresh ones. Even the ones frozen right off the vine are miles better. The cranberry bread I yearned for is now sitting on my kitchen counter, all puffed up and crowned with a sprinkling of turbinado sugar to counter the tartness of the berries. Food for the gods.
My favorite is a cranberry cake my mom used to make, a recipe everyone living near a cranberry marsh recognizes. Invariably, mention of that cake brings a groan of remembered pleasure from everyone. A piece of cake sliced open and laid out to receive the warm sauce. M-m-m-M! (Don’t worry. I’ve included the recipe below, so you can try it too. If you do, let me know what you think.)
Some things are worth waiting for. Cranberries in the fall are one of those things. But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t let the freezer supply dwindle away to nothing again!
Mix: 1 C sugar
2 TBsp butter, melted
½ C milk
Add: 2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 C cranberries, fresh or frozen
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes in a 9 X 9 pan. (9 X 13 makes a thinner cake)
Heat 1 C half-&-half, ½ C butter, ½ C powdered sugar. Stir until combined.
Slice each piece of cake crosswise to absorb the warm sauce. Pour hot sauce over slice & serve.