A Cranberry Condiment, Two Ways
Growing up, I never touched the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. Back then, my mom served the cloyingly-sweet jellied version, straight from a can, and I never quite understood the appeal.
Fast forward to adulthood, when I had the good fortune to acquire a sister-in-law who is an expert maker of all things jelly and jam. She has taken on the annual Thanksgiving cranberry sauce-making, using fresh cranberries, a hint of orange zest, and only half the sugar called for by standard recipes. Finally, I came to appreciate the important role of this seasonal condiment on the Thanksgiving table beyond the gorgeous pop of magenta it provides on a plate dominated by brown-hued mounds of comfort food. When done right, a good cranberry sauce adds tart counterbalance to a meal dominated by earthy flavors, while the acid helps cut through the fat of those buttery mashed potatoes and gravy. After all, there’s plenty of sweetness come dessert time; I want my cranberry sauce to be a bit more on the tart side. If you’re in the market for a classic cranberry sauce that fits this bill and has 75% of the daily value of vitamin C to boot, here’s recipe #1: a simple Cranberry Sauce that’s just sweet enough.
But if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a cranberry condiment from scratch, wouldn’t it be great to make one with legs beyond its one-meal-a-year debut at Thanksgiving dinner?
It was this idea that got me thinking about making a hybrid condiment–part jam, part spread, part chutney– that could dutifully serve its function at the Thanksgiving table, but could continue on into the season to adorn the bread that holds together the leftover turkey sandwiches…to serve as a fruit filling to seasonal cookies…to accompany nutty, aged pecorinos on a holiday cheese platter… to spread on pancakes and waffles for winter morning breakfasts… to put into mini mason jars and give as gifts for the holidays…
The pieces fell into place this weekend at a cooking demo at Foster’s Homeware in Philadelphia, where Chef Greg Aversa of Smokin’ Betty’s restaurant prepared his recipe for Fig Jam. (At the restaurant, they spread it on sourdough bread, add mozzarella and proscuitto and grill it panini-style.) He encouraged us to consider the recipe as a template, and riff on it in all sorts of directions to suit our tastes. Which I did. The result is a jam-like, chutney-ish spread that tastes sort of like a cranberry fig newton filling and has me finding all sorts of excuses to spread it on foods both savory and sweet. It’s a super-fast, beyond-easy and incredibly versatile condiment to have on hand as the holidays approach.
Recipe #2: Cranberry Fig Jam
Adapted from Smokin’ Betty’s restaurant, Philadelphia, PA
1 lb dried figs, stems removed, cut in half
2 TBSP pomegranate molasses (Look for it among the Middle Eastern foods of your specialty market. If you can’t find it, regular molasses will do fine, too.)
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup agave nectar or honey (orange blossom or clover honey are best)
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine figs, juice, molasses, mustard, sugar, pepper and salt.
- Simmer ingredients, stirring occasionally, until figs are nice and soft. If too much liquid evaporates and your figs start sizzling, add a bit more juice or water
- When figs are soft, transfer them to a food processor. Add the agave nectar or honey and pulse briefly until the mixture is an even texture.
* 100% cranberry juice is as tart as the dickens, but a 32 oz jar is a good item to stock in your pantry, especially if you’re female and prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs). Besides being loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, cranberry juice contains a compound called proanthocyanidin that prevents E. coli bacteria from adhering to the wall of your bladder and urinary tract. Research has showed that these pathogenic bacteria can regain their adhesion ability once removed from their cranberry bath, however, so it would seem that if you feel a UTI coming on, a good bet to stave it off would be to keep a constant flow of 100% cranberry juice (diluted in water for palatability and hydration purposes) coarsing through your body throughout the day to flush the offending bacteria and prevent an infection from taking hold. If you don’t catch it in time, however, you’ll need to seek conventional medical attention in the form of antibiotics to cure the infection once it’s full-fledged. Research into whether drinking cranberry juice regularly can help prevent recurrent UTIs in healthy women has so far been inconclusive; if you can spare the calories, it won’t hurt, but it’s unclear whether it will help. And one last caveat before you start pounding that cranberry juice: if you take the blood-thinning medication warfarin (coumadin), you should avoid drinking large volumes of cranberry juice due to a possible drug-nutrient interaction that could potentially cause excessive bleeding.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.