Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Pie No. 3

It is the turn of cranberry pie today, in our Thanksgiving series. The cranberry is of course a major crop in the USA, and like the pumpkin, was used to advantage by the Native American Indians who shared their knowledge with the hungry, struggling early settlers, thereby assuring its place at the heart of Thanksgiving.
According to a gardeners’s manual of 1839, one cranberry plant requires two and a half square feet of land and will produce three and a half bushels of berries which will supply one hundred and forty pies. Even if modern horticultural methods have not increased the yield, that is an extraordinarily generous pie plant.
Living as I do in the nether part of the world, where fresh cranberries are as common as hen’s teeth and almost as expensive as fresh caviar, I am thoroughly entitled to be curious about cranberry pie. Most recipes give a cup for cup amount of sugar to berries. This is a jam proportion, is it not?  Is the filling of the finished pie/tart jammy (or it that jelly-y?)  I know that one year I will make it over the big water in time for Thanksgiving, and perhaps one of you will make me the real deal. I look forward to it.
In the meanwhile, only a gratuitious satisfaction of my curiosity is possible. It appears that cookbook writers over the years disagree as to whether the quintessential cranberry pie should be spiced or not, and the berries pre-cooked or not. There does seem to be consensus that cranberry pies are topless. In many parts of the world, a topless pie is a tart … but let me not start that debate again …
The extraordinarily versatile and prolific Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) who must be considered an expert, comes out clearly in favour of topless cranberry pies. In her famous book The American Frugal Housewife (1841) says of them:
“Cranberry pies need very little spice. A little nutmeg, or cinnamon, improves them. They need a great deal of sweetening. It is well to stew the sweetening with them ; at least a part of it. It is easy to add, if you find them too sour for your taste. When cranberries are strained, and added to about their own weight in sugar, they make very delicious tarts. No upper crust.”
I have chosen a recipe for you today from an Iowa newspaper, the Waterloo Courier, of Nov 24, 1880.

Cranberry Pie.
There are various ways to make a cranberry pie; some make it open like a custard or pumpkin pie. This is good, but not so good as to cover like an apple pie. Do not stew the berries, as some do before baking, but slit each berry with a knife. This will preserve the freshness of the fruit, which is quite an important thing. A cupful of berries aud an equal quantity of white sugar will make a medium-sized pie. .Those who like a sweet pie should have more sugar, also more berries if desired. 
Bake as usual. A little flour sifted over the fruit gives it a thicker consistence.
One thing should not be forgotten, add a small teacupful of water.
Do you, Oh Fresh Cranberry Pie Makers, really slit each and every berry individually before en-pastrying them? A great labour of love, that.
The cranberry is also, as I understand it, indispensible in the form of sauce for the turkey at Thanksgiving – no doubt an adaptation of the ancient indispensible currant sauce for various meats from the English tradition. I can buy it in a jar here in Oz, but it looks like breakfast jam. Maybe I will mortgage the house and buy some fresh berries to make it this year for our Christmas turkey. Please send me your best recipe for cranberry sauce from scratch.
Quotation for the Day …
It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it.
Alistair Cooke.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

The cranberry sauce I will make on Thursday contains, 1 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, 1 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons orange juice and 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier. All ingredients are baked covered in a glass baking dish for 1 hour. The liquor is mixed in after and then the sauce is chilled for 4 hours. There's also a wonderful recipe from an easy cranberry nut pie that probably came from the Ocean Spray company originally.

Danielle said...

I have been reading your blog for a few months now and have really enjoyed it!
I will have to make the pecan pie you mention in your previous post. I think the custard would be very good with the pecans. I have made cranberry pie just one or twice, but very successfully with the addition of golden raisins and orange zest with a lattice crust.
Here is the recipe I use for cranberry sauce (from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith): Spiced Cranberries
1 quart cranberries
1/2 cup water
12 whole cloves
12 whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
1/8 teaspoon mace
1 cup brown sugar
In a pot place cranberries, water, whole spices (enclosed in a cheesecloth bag), and mace. Cover pot and simmer until fruit is soft and broken, about 25 minutes. Remove spice bag and discard. Stir in the sugar over heat until dissolved. (The recipe recommends running the berries through a food processor or pressing through a colander before adding the sugar -- I have always skipped this step.)

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks T.W and Danielle - two very different recipes! Both sound good. I think I may be able to get some frozen cranberries - these should work OK in a cooked sauce, shouldnt they? I'd love to do one of these for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Cranberries do take a lot of sugar, however I never use as much as recommended. I recommend doing it to taste.

As for slitting each, forget it. But, you can lay them out, put them between two large flat surfaces [cookie sheets or cutting boards], and give them a firm whack so they are split but NOT pulverized ;). That opens up the internals.

I personally love how tart they are, but most people feel that they dry your teeth out instead.

For cranberry sauce, I throw a handful of sugar in, as many berries as looks interesting (several cups), a pinch of salt (pulls out the flavor), some spicing - allspice/cloves/cinnamon/ginger, and stew it in some type of alcohol (madeira/red wine/etc).


Anonymous said...

They'd probably still be expensive, but perhaps they ship frozen berries overseas? crans keep really well in the freezer. I always buy extra in November and freeze them for the off-season and make cranberry compote for serving over breakfast or dessert. Yum!!!

Anonymous said...

The way many Americans eat cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is out of the can. It does have a very jell-o like consistency, but a little more solid. It is often served intact from the can on it's side with the impression from the rings on the can being used as decorative design.I'm sure it's better from scratch, but the can itself has become the tradition in many families.

I really recommend Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie by Sandy Oliver for learning about Thanksgiving.

Shay said...

I've never had a cranberry pie (in fact I can't ever remember even seeing one, and I'm fifty three years old and US born and raised). It sounds like an older dish that has fallen out of favor, kind of like Marlborough Pie and Election Cake.

Turkey is a rich bird and the meat needs something tart to balance it. I can't imagine eating turkey without cranberry relish or some kind of chutney. Fresh cranberry relish is my preference; chop one package (12 oz) of cranberries, 2/3 cup of white sugar, and one seeded fresh orange, with peel, very fine. If the food processor wasn't invented for this recipe, it should have been.

Place this somewhere cool for a couple of hours. No need to cook it. Taste before serving and stir in more sugar if needed. Keeps well.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Everyone: thanks for the ideas (I am still not sold on the idea of canned cranberrry sauce, ring-impressed jelly or not!)
Jay - thanks for the berry-smashing idea.
Shay - an uncooked sauce sounds good, especially for here in Queensland where the weather is very hot at Christmas.
KT - We can get frozen berries here - but I dont know where they come from - I wonder if they are grown somewhere in Oz (it would be in very small amounts - we dont have much in the way of wet swampy land!)
Sarah Sue - thanks for the book suggestion, I know Sandy Oliver's work, but must have missed this one , so I will definitely order it.

Anonymous said...

If you can bring yourself to make cooked cranberry sauce on the stove, you will have the fun of the bloopy popping sounds as the berries burst. (I never heard of opening them before cooking.) It can be a bit messy, true, but entertaining.

Hmm, now I want to get out the leftover cranberry sauce and eat it right away. Someone suggested putting it in yogurt, which I'm sure is delicious.

Nurse Karen K. said...

I can vouch for what Sarah Sue said about canned crandberry sauce, and the decorative rings from the can being part of the apeal. As kids we used to fight for the end piece!

The Old Foodie said...

Ah but Karen, do you still fight over the end-piece?

Kate McDermott/Art of the Pie said...

I know this post is quite old but having just read it, I wanted to share with my recipe for cranberry pie. It's much like a sour or tart cherry pie.