World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: side dish

Cranberry Bog.

Back in October, while in Massachusetts for business, I toured a cranberry farm. This outing was one that had long been on my list of adventures since I was a girl growing up in New England. The bonus was that I was able to see an in-progress bog harvest. I also think that I was luck due to the patience and knowledgeable guide who was also the assistant operations manger. Unfortunately, his name is not in my notes.

A.D. Makepeace, the “Cranberry King”, has been in the business of growing cranberries in southeastern Massachusetts since the 1800s. In 1930 the family joined two other cranberry companies in creating what would become Ocean Spray Cranberries, an ag cooperative that has become synonymous with the fruit.

A few highlights I did salvage from my scribblings:

  • The name for the fruit, comes from the Pilgrims” lexicon”crane berry,” as the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane.
  • Massachusetts was the first site of the first documented cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • Costs $25-30 to grow a barrel of cranberries. Makepeace, delivered 370,000 barrels in 2011.
  • Massachusetts is second to Wisconsin in production.
  • Cranberries float due to an air sac within the berry.
  • Along with Concord grapes and blueberries, cranberries are are one of only three native fruits grown commercially in North America.
  • Thanksgiving trivia bonus:  440 cranberries in one pound; 4,400 cranberries per gallon of juice; 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel

A common misperception is that the cranberries grow in water.  They are grown in sandy bogs or marshes. If the fruit is to be processed for juice or other use the bog is flooded and corralled (as shown above). What I didn’t know was that these bogs are more than watery fields.  They are classified as state wetlands requiring environmental controls and allows for protected designation for the grower.  And the other challenges are long, springs in Massachusetts have become increasingly warmer meaning it is getting tougher to grow cranberries due to higher incidences of pests and fungus.  Come autumn, which have been warmer the berries need a few consecutive evenings of cooler temperatures to turn from white to red.  All of these factors add to cost and yield. Makepeace takes this sustainability responsibility seriously. It is also extended beyond the bogs to the community.

Cranberry Sauce

1 12-oz. package fresh (about 3 cups), picked over and rinsed

3/4 cup real, pure maple syrup, Grade B (if possible)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium orange, finely grated to yield 1 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/3 cup juice

Combine the cranberries, maple syrup, and orange juice in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium low to a simmer while stirring every now and then. After five minutes in the cranberries will begin to burst. Let this happen for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and cinnamon. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least an hour, as this will allow the sauce to thicken up.

Leftover sauce?  Serve over a chicken breast poached in lemon water or by mixing with butter and spread over sourdough toast. 

Recipes from Ocean Spray

Recipes from Epicurious

Brussels Sprouts.

Curious thing about our palates, they change.  As an example, take Brussel sprouts, a vegetable that because it looks and smells funny I never appreciated. And why? Most likely, they were not properly prepared or they were frozen.  It’s best to seek them out fresh, and seemingly they are everywhere.  In fact, Trader Joe’s sells fresh stalks–all 2 1/2′-3′ feet.  Think of the Brussels sprouts plant as one really tall stemmed cabbage with  many sprouts along the stalk. Pluck a handful off for a serving, keep the stalk in a vase on the counter and they will last  for a week.  Kids will think they are absolutely prehistoric. Historically we can credit statesman and omnivore Thomas Jefferson, for introducing the plant to the United States from Paris in 1821. Large scale cultivation began sometime in the 16th century in (wait for it…) Brussels, Belgium. The following recipe is my go-to kitchen standard.  I often have this alongside a roast chicken or with a poached egg for Sunday breakfast.  It also has become a standard at Thanksgiving dinner as a side where someone will state “I don’t like those.” I simply smile and say, “Is that right?”

Extra Extra!     Brussels sprouts renaissance in Bay Area is a quick read on the flip in the market from mostly frozen to fresh and it’s all happening in Half Moon Bay.

Brussel Sprouts Braised in Cider with Bacon

1 lb. Brussel sprouts

3 pieces bacon, diced (pancetta can also be used)

1 cup chicken brother (or water)

1/2 cup apple cider (if you don’t have cider, orange juice will work)

Instructions

Remove bottoms of Brussels sprouts along with any outer raggedy-looking leaves.  Quarter each sprout. Over medium heat in a skillet sauté the bacon pieces.  Cook until the bacon is nearly done, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Push the bacon toward the edges of the pan and arrange the Brussels sprouts in the pan in a single layer, with the cut side down. Leave them in the pan without stirring, letting them brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Now add the chicken broth and turn heat up to med-high.  When it appears the Brussels sprouts have caramelized, and most of the chicken brother is gone, add the cider. Turn heat to med-high and bring the mixture to a medium boil. Cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the Brussels sprouts are cooked. If too much liquid boils away before brussels sprouts are tender, add additional liquid.

Note: if you prefer, cook the bacon separately, or ahead and crumble it.  Toss with finished vegetables before serving.

Variation:  Instead of bacon toast pecans or walnuts and mix into cooked sprouts.