Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vermont's Other Berry

Cranberries from Vermont? Really? The Green Mountain State isn’t usually the first to come to mind when cranberries are mentioned. That honor usually goes to my former home state of Massachusetts. But cranberries do grow in Vermont, and in fact the Vermont Cranberry Company in Fletcher produces more than 15,000 pounds of these little beauties each year. 

Because they're grown in fields, though, not bogs, Vermont cranberries need to be watered quite frequently, especially if we have a summer and fall like we just experienced. Ample watering produces plump, tart, and brilliantly red cranberries that are perfect for the Thanksgiving table.

But what to make with this gorgeous fruit, one of the few that’s native to North America? Everyone has their favorite recipe, from traditional sweet-tart sauces to elegant compotes to zesty relishes. Cranberries can be baked into pies, breads, and scones, mixed into stuffings, or tossed with salads, but my favorite thing to make with them is chutney. I discovered this preparation years ago when I was planning my first Thanksgiving dinner in our then new home. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, I scoured cookbooks (this was before recipes became so searchable online), looking for the perfect recipes to create my own take on the traditional meal.

I was going through a phase where I was making a lot of Indian food, so Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Chutney appealed to me. I’ve always had good success with her recipes and they aren’t too challenging to pull off. Over the years I’ve adapted the recipe to my own taste, so now it’s quite different from the original. That's the case with a lot of my favorite recipes, and to me this experimentation and creativity is one of the best aspects of cooking. With Martha’s chutney (which I now call Cranberry Pear Chutney), I add roasted pears instead of dried cranberries and cherries,

and use maple syrup instead of brown sugar. I also add minced shallots along with the garlic

and use less vinegar than she calls for. I keep the chopped fresh ginger, 

which is essential to the flavor burst this chutney brings to the Thanksgiving plate, but I add more dried spices than just the cinnamon in the original recipe. Allspice, cloves, and cardamom all lend complexity (and a hint of the pie yet to come!).  My secret ingredient, though, is freshly grated nutmeg.

I’m a big fan of nutmeg at this time of year, but it’s imperative that it be freshly grated. It imparts warmth and depth to many dishes, and not necessarily ones that are sweet. By the way, in case you happened to notice (and I hope you did), I bought a new camera—woot woot!—and am having fun getting to know it. It’s a huge improvement over the one I had been using.

What I love about this chutney is the blend and balance of flavors:  tart (cranberries), sweet (pears, maple syrup, and orange juice), acidic (apple cider vinegar), savory (garlic and shallots), and spicy (ginger and the other spices). 

They all meld together into a beautiful complement to the turkey and stuffing and other irresistible sides on the Thanksgiving table. 

The chutney is also delicious on a turkey sandwich the following day, or any day, for that matter.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Cranberry Pear Chutney (with a nod to Martha Stewart)

2 Bosc pears, cored and chopped into small pieces
2 T olive oil
1 lb. fresh cranberries, washed
1 cup orange juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 T chopped fresh ginger
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 t cinnamon
½ t allspice
½ t cardamom
½ t freshly grated  nutmeg
A pinch of cloves

Preheat oven to 425˚ roast. Toss chopped pears in olive oil and spread them out on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring once to brown them evenly.

While pears are roasting, combine all the remaining ingredients in a large, nonreactive saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring every so often. Simmer for 25 minutes, until the liquid has blended in with the cranberries and the chutney is thick. Add pears and stir to combine.

The chutney will keep in for two weeks in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

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