Raw relish or cooked conserve: whatever your cranberry preference, just don’t do “canned.”

Photo © Scott Dorrance, excerpted from Dishing Up® Maine

Is there a fruit prettier than cranberries? It’s hard to imagine the fall and winter months without them. Not only do they contribute their delicious tart grace note to our menus, both savory and sweet, but the gorgeous scarlet berries also add natural beauty to our holiday décor. I string cranberries with popcorn to drape on the Christmas tree, float them in shallow glass bowls along with white tea lights, and pour them into tall hurricane lamps around candles.

Cranberries, along with blueberries, are the only two berries native to North America. Algonquin peoples used cranberries in a variety of foods, especially for pemmican, and probably introduced them to the starving English settlers in Massachusetts, who then incorporated cranberries into traditional Thanksgiving feasts. Native Americans called the berries “sassamanash” and early Europeans dubbed them “crane berries” because the stamen of the fruit resembles a crane’s beak. Another old name for the fruit was “bounce berries” because of their bouncy quality, and some Cape Codders still call cranberries “bog berries.”

While Massachusetts still has a huge cranberry industry, Wisconsin is now the biggest producer in this country. It’s a popular misconception that cranberry beds remain flooded in bogs throughout the year. The beds are flooded in the fall to facilitate the harvest and again during the winter to protect the plants against low temperatures.

It’s time to buy several bags to use now for your holiday cranberry sauces and to stash in the freezer for future use.

Raw Cranberry-Clementine Relish

I like to have two cranberry sauces on the Thanksgiving table — a cooked one, such as the Cooked Cranberry-Pear Conserve (see below), and a raw relish. This relish, which goes together in about five minutes, has stirred more comment and praise than many a more complicated dish on the feast table. And its agreeably crunchy texture and tart, horseradish-spiked flavor is the perfect addition to the post-prandial turkey sandwich.

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  • 2 smallish clementines, cut into 1-inch chunks, seeds discarded
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup orange marmalade
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish

Directions

  1. Pulse the cranberries and clementines in a food processor until they are chopped medium-fine. (Do not overprocess to a purée.) Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Stir in the sugar, marmalade, and horseradish and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or for up to a week. Serve cool or at room temperature.

Cooked Cranberry Conserve

Based on the research I’ve done on the subject, a preserve and a conserve seem to refer pretty much to the same thing — that is, fruit cooked and preserved with sugar. I’ve called this a conserve because I happen to like the old-fashioned sort of ring to the name, but you can call it plain old cranberry sauce if you like. The pear adds a bit of different texture and the ginger makes it sparkle on the tongue.

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  • 1 firm, flavorful pear, such as a Bosc, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ⅔ cup dry vermouth or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

Directions

  1. Combine the cranberries, pear, sugar, and wine in a large saucepan or deep skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the cranberries pop and the sauce is lightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. (Do not cook the mixture until it is dry, as it will thicken up considerably as it cools.) Stir in the ginger.
  2. Transfer to covered containers and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Recipes excerpted from Dishing Up® Maine © 2006 by Brooke Dojny. All rights reserved.

Brooke Dojny

Brooke Dojny is an award-winning food journalist and cookbook author who specializes in writing about New England food. She is the author of ChowderlandLobster!The New… See Bio

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