I have been the family member in charge of the cranberries for about 10 years. In my early childhood, when Thanksgiving was at my grandmother's house (before my mom took over the honor), my grandmother would make her own whole-berry sauce - no doubt using the recipe from the Ocean Spray bag - and serve alongside canned jellied sauce. We've never stopped using that same lovely leaf-shaped, two-bowled Lenox serveware, but when my turn came for cranberries, my mother and I both agreed it was time to ditch the canned jelly. I've never to this day made any type of jelly (though I've tried straining things through cheesecloth to disastrous effect of spurt, splatter, and burst). But somehow that double serving dish has always begged me to make two recipes. So, in the process, I have gone through many many versions of cranberry sauce, two per year, and only rarely repeated the same one.
This year, I offered to host Thanksgiving at my house for the second year in a row. (Last year was to baptize my remodeled kitchen, which Will and I finished painting late Wednesday night.) I'm not sure if it constitutes a torch-passing when it's self-inflicted, but to mark the occasion, this year my cranberries are coming from my soul rather than a cookbook. I am digging deep into my menu-planning, flavor-complementing, timorously-creative self to draw from years of recipe review and concoct my own versions of cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving table.
Of course, I also take baking for myself, so I am in charge of pies, and the person with the oven also must be the person with the turkey. So after those initial tasks are laid out, I made further assignments of dressing and vegetable to my mom, and salad to my mother-in-law. The salad course can kind of stand-alone, but it's nice for the other sides to coordinate. My mom decided to go Mediterranean, to bring some sunny warmth to this chilly week (snow in Seattle!) we've been having. To partner with her, I came up with this cranberry sauce:
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Tempranillo wine from Rioja
3 springs thyme (about 4" long, with 3-4 shoots each)
Bring all ingredients to boil, then simmer about 15 minutes, until sugar is dissolved, berries have popped, and mixture thickens. Remove thyme, and refrigerate.
But with two 90-year old matrons of Thanksgivings of yore, I didn't want to push them too far from their comfort zones. With that, I wanted something just a little bit different, but still celebrating the pure American sugar-sweetness that is typically trademarked in cranberry sauce. I owe the inspiration for this particular version to Alton Brown.
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
12 ounces ginger ale (not sugar-free, you need the sugar to add the texture, not just the sweetness - an all-natural version would be best, with cane sugar and real ginger)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 thick slice fresh ginger root, peeled
Mix all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, until thickened. Refrigerate and serve (remove ginger slice before serving).
Can be made up to a week in advance.
This story starts in 2007, when my mom first read this article in the Seattle Times and shared it with me and Will. She tried to find a heritage turkey that year for Thanksgiving, but of course none were available so late in the year. Somehow, for the next two years, we never remembered to find or order one before it was too late. But in March, 2010, a friend of a friend of ours bought land on Vashon Island and started an organic farm. Our friend was trying to promote their business, and sent us an email blast encouraging us to check them out, and when we discovered they were raising turkeys, we immediately placed our order.
Near the beginning of November, we got in touch with the farm to make arrangements for bird transfer. We found out that while they had started with four poults, one died, and one turned out to be a chicken!! However, they still had two healthy birds, a 12-pound tom and a 10-pound hen, and gave us our choice. Since heritage birds are smaller than grocery store birds, we went with the tom, to make sure we had plenty to go around. If it was as good as all the claims, we would want plenty of seconds!
As the story goes on, this truly became a memorable experiment. The week of Thanksgiving, beginning on Sunday, Seattle was hit with a blizzard. Power went out on Vashon Island for three days, and roads and offices were closed down because of snow and 20-degree temperatures. I had weeks ago determined to cook two turkeys, so we could taste the standard white next to the Bourbon line, so I was able to get to a nearby grocery store and buy a base-line 10-pound Jennie-O. But getting to Vashon, in the crazed preparations and horried driving conditions was more problematic. Ultimately, it turns out the farmers were on their way to the airport, and so we coordinated such that I could meet them on the Seattle-side of the ferry dock, and we made our exchange in the parking lot. I brought a cooler for the trunk, but that was a bit unnecessary, given the ambient air temperature.
Our 12-pound Bourbon line turkey, before we know what it will be like.
I don't typically brine the bird, although I did last year. It is strongly recommended for the heritage lines though, as they are leaner and drier by nature. So, as soon as we got home, into the tub he went.
I thought that compared to the 21/22 pound turkeys I usually cook, that there would be plenty of room for me to cook two at a time for this round, but I couldn't actually fit both in the roasting pan, I didn't have an oven bag, and I didn't have another pan big enough for the turkey but small enough to fit alongside the roasting pan. So instead I put the 10-pound in at 12:15 p.m. for 3 hours, and swapped out turkeys when it was done and back into the oven with the heritage. Covered in foil, the first one was still warm when we got around to eating it three hours later.
So, the results!!! We served up the two types of turkey side-by-side for each of our eight diners. The grammas couldn't really taste a difference. Everyone else could definitely taste a difference, with comments such as "heritage is 'meatier'" and "heritage is richer" being the descriptors. Two (including myself) had no preference, and the other four all preferred the heritage.
I had read that heritage turkeys are "all dark meat" and I don't honestly even know what the distinction is between dark and light meat. The heritage turkey meat was darker. It was also more firm. It was not gamey at all, as researched reports warned me to be prepared for. I don't think the price ($10/pound) warrants the difference in the actual meat. Certainly, it is worth the price for other reasons: to know the producer, to buy locally, and to ensure the harvesting practices are low-impact and sustainable. But as a Thanksgiving experience to run a comparison taste-taste, and fuel the content for this post, it was absolutely worth the price. We all had a lot of fun getting familar with our local Bourbon, and if you have the opportunity, you should give one a try too!
And lest there be any question whether or not this bird was "grain-fed," when preparing the carcass for stock, I came across the stomach, fully-loaded with his final meal of a veritable pilaf of grains and seeds.
I have never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie, and while in recent years, I've started to enjoy it, I still never really get excited about it. So I have always made two pies for Thanksgiving, one plain pumpkin, and something else that I think I will like more, or something that dresses up "plain old pumpkin" just a bit. For example, pumpkin pie with caramel sauce or streusel topping or gingersnap crust instead of pastry. I've also made pumpkin cheesecakes and pumpkin mousse pies. See the "Pies and Tarts" page for my favorite pumpkin pie.
This year, with only eight coming for dinner, and plenty else to prepare besides a second dessert, I committed to just making one really nice standard pumpkin pie. However, in the last few days before, I really still wanted to try something else. I had some ginger cookies around that make a great crumb crust, and thought a fall-flavored tart might be a nice complement.
Tarts are thin, so they are nice after a big meal because you don't take a huge slice. Since I'd already used maple in the cranberries, that was in my head as a good pilgrim-esque ingredient, so I researched maple pies and cheesecakes, and decided to try the following creation based on what I found out:
Maple Streusel Tart
1 1/2 cups finely ground ginger cookies (use food processor to crush) (you could also use graham crackers and powdered ginger)
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger (grate over the bowl of crackers to catch all the juice)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
Process crust ingredients and press into 9" tart pan.
8-oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons dark rum
Beat cream cheese until smooth. Blend in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beat until smooth. Beat in cream, syrup, and run. Pour into crust, filling about 3/4 full because it will puff as it rises. There will be a little more batter than will fit in the pan, you can bake this in a custard cup. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
ground cinnamon, ground ginger, or minced candied ginger to taste
Mix ingredients together until small clumps form. Sprinkle over topping and return to oven for about 15 minutes, until topping is golden.
Note: The streusel is not at all necessary for taste. The tart is already quite sweet, and the streusel is also very sweet. But the texture is nice. Next time, I might simply stir in 1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts into the tart batter.