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CRANBERRY RELISH

Although some think that a festive Thanksgiving dinner would be not be complete without cranberry relish, I never really cared very much for the stuff. The commercial variety tends to be both sweet and tasteless, with a consistency that can turn grown men squeamish.

This recipe corrects all. I've almost become a fan of this shrubby vine's fruit. BTW, the name may come from a corruption of "craneberry" as cranes, living in New England, ate the berries. They are also known as bearberries for a parallel reason.orange - ginger - lemon

The ingredients:

  • 2 oranges (or tangerines if you like)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • fresh ginger, cut in fine julienne, resulting in 1-2 Tablespoons. If you can find "new ginger" (aka "pink" or "green" ginger) use that; it has a fresh taste and is more moist than the usual fresh ginger that can be somewhat dry or woody. It also needs little or no peeling. Read all about ginger at the Cook's Thesaurus website.
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) of fresh cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) of freshly ground white pepperGround white pepper (or powdered; some asian markets have ground white pepper that retains its pungency and is of a very fine consistency, perfect for this dish).

Preparation (< 40 min):

1. Carefully peel 1 orange (to get the outer orange part only) and cut the zest into a very fine julienne, as thin as possible; set aside. Squeeze both oranges for juice; set aside.

2. Combine sugar and lemon juice in a sauté pan. Heat up slowly and continue cooking until the sugar begins to caramelize*. If necessary, wash down the sides of the pan by brushing with a little water or orange juice to keep the sugar from burning. Be careful to not add more liquid than really needed; the sugar itself will melt at ca 340° F.

[*Caramelization is the progressive dehydration of the sucrose molecule (described by Maillard in 1912). There are approximately three stages resulting in larger, and less water soluble, compounds. The initial products tend to have a bitter flavor while the later ones have buttery, or toffee, characteristics. Some flavorful pyrolytic compounds formed include maltol, isomaltol and hydroxymethylfurfural; read more about caramelization from food-info. Tip to the cook: caramelizing sugar has a melting point just below that of the outer corona of the sun - resist licking the spoon to check the progress of flavor development.]

Will all that sugar really dissolve?
After a few minutes the sugar dissolves in only 2 teaspoons of lemon juice!
The start of the caramelizing process.
Almost completely caramelized
Add the ginger and orange rind.
The whole turns a nice orange brown.

3. When the sugar is nicely caramel colored, add the julienned ginger and orange zest. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the cranberries, white pepper, and about half of the orange juice. Be careful though, popping cranberries can hurl ultrahot caramel in all directions.

Add the cranberries and lots-o-white pepper.
Almost there - don't overcook!

4. Continue to cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the cranberries are slightly broken but not mushy. Add the remaining orange juice as needed if the sauce is too thick. If it seems too liquid, don't panic, the sauce will become thicker as it cools.

Remove from the heat and let cool. Completed cranberry sauce.

When the sauce is still warm, transfer to a serving dish or bowl. It's easier to shape and have it look nice before it cools completely.

Cover and refrigerate if not used the same day, but serve at room temperature. Makes about 3 cups.

References:
Jasper White's Cooking from New England
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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