Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wild Wild Cranberries

The Hamptons, and East Hampton in particular where Steve and I have our house, get a lot of play in the press for the flashy exploits of the cast of characters who make it their summer playground.  Too bad the real picture isn't as well known. On the southern fork of Long Island, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town comprise 200 square miles of land surrounded by Atlantic beaches, bays, harbors, ponds and wetlands.  Since the late 1600's this unique strip of land has been home to farmers, fishermen and whalers.  The whalers are gone but the farming and fishing live on, as do many tracts of preserved woodlands and waterfronts.  Yeah, less so than in years past, but there's still plenty of beautiful outdoors to explore year round.

Beach plum season having passed, it's time for the wild cranberry bog at Walking Dunes in Napeague.  Every year this valley nestled in a series towering horse-shoe shaped dunes produces an abundance of wild cranberries.  We had a lot of rain the night before, so the bog was boggy -- but no matter, gathering two quarts of ripe berries was 45 minutes of time spent with our friends Gena and Kevin.

When you take the trouble to pick your own cranberries, you really want them to shine.  Cook only the briefest amount of time so the berries are intact, just burst open. And better still if not all have popped. You want this to be rustic.

The second "Wild" in the title refers to the addition of fresh jalapeno for some heat and crunch, crystalized ginger for the zing, orange rind to add its subtle flavor, and a bit of honey for a homey sweetness.  All used sparingly -- the cranberries are center stage and the others are the chorus backing up the star. Continuing with this metaphor, I guess the little bit of dried cranberries included in the recipe would be the stage crew -- they're there to make sure the show runs smoothly.

Cranberry sauce can't get any more spectacular when made with berries you plucked from the wild.  But this recipe does work perfectly with store-bought too.   

Wild Wild Cranberries
8 c. wild cranberries, washed
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, diced
zest of 1 large orange (the Rosle zester makes the longest, thinest shreds that cling to the berries)
1 T. finely chopped candied ginger

Bring the water, sugar and honey to a boil in a large wide skilllet, making a sweet syrup. Add the dried cranberries, jalapeno, orange zest and candied ginger. Stir so the ginger and cranberries don't stick together in clumps. Add the wild cranberries, keeping the syrup at a boil.

Almost immediately you will hear small popping sounds, the cranberries bursting open. Continue to stir gently. The goal is to cook until about half of the cranberries have broken open. Watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes (and this is why you want a skillet rather than a pot, it's easier to keep your eyes on things). Take off the heat while there're still many berrries intact. More will burst in the residual heat as the skillet cools, and as you stir a little more before serving.

Cool to room temp and serve the same day you make it (this is preferred).  But you can also refrigerate or freeze until ready for unveiling. Choose your most elegant crystal bowl for presentation at table. Wild Wild Cranberries deserve nothing less.

One last thing -- while this recipe could be easily home-canned, the extra cooking it would undergo during the boiling water bath would reduce the integrity of the barely-cooked berries, so you'd end up with more pedestrian results.  Freshly made is best.

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