On the route we drive every week from Rhode Island to Boston, my husband Ted and I pass a cranberry bog alongside the highway, close enough that we can see through the trees when it's harvest time. The farmer floods the bog, forcing the cranberries to rise to the surface of the water, where they're gently agitated until they float and can be scooped off. All we see from the road is purple, a gigantic red-wine-colored stain the size of several football fields, and here in cranberry country, that sight makes us happy, because we know our local cranberries soon will be on their way to cooks all across the country.
We stock up on fresh berries at this time of year, and stash several bags in the freezer. And we keep dried cranberries (cleverly dubbed craisins by those folks at Ocean Spray) in the pantry all the time. Both fresh and dried find their way onto my Thanksgiving menu, not only for the feast itself, but also for family meals all weekend long.
Here are five of my favorite dried cranberry recipes:
In the photo at the top, this maple cranberry walnut bread, a recipe adapted from one my friend Sarah shared here a few years ago (and a new favorite in the Meatless Holidays cookbook), remains a mainstay of our holiday weekends. Serve the bread as a side dish for the holiday dinner, toast leftovers for breakfast the morning after, and it's still perfect for afternoon tea (though you're unlikely to have much left). I like to make a few loaves and freeze them.
I'm a big fan of green salads with fruit, and this pear and brie salad with cashews and dried cranberries mates ripe, sweet pears, which are in season right now, with the tart cranberries. I could eat this as a main course for lunch or light supper any day, or as a first course for the holiday menu.
For a taste of turkey without actually roasting a whole turkey, why not try these turkey, cranberry and basil meatballs? I like to make them ahead and freeze them, then pull out a few at a time whenever I crave a Thanksgiving fix. If you're cooking a meal for one or two people, make your own mini holiday feast with meatballs, mashed potatoes, and green beans.
I've never been a fan of sweet jams and jellies, including sweet cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, but chutney? Yes, please. Chutney is a condiment more spicy than sweet, with a bit of hot pepper, a bit of vinegar, and a bit of sugar to carry the flavors of the fruit. In this dried cranberry and pear chutney, I've gone with pears because they are seasonal; you could substitute apples, or use some of each. Chutney loves to blossom for a few weeks, so make it now and it will be perfect for Thanksgiving (and beyond).
When you're planning for the holidays, don't forget breakfast for the morning after. Leftovers will be great for lunch, dinner and snacks for the next few days, but your guests deserve something special for breakfast, too. Cranberry, orange and walnut buttermilk ricotta waffles make every morning feel like an occasion. Rich, tangy, fruity and altogether satisfying, these waffles will guarantee that nobody minds when you invite them to spend the rest of the day raking leaves from your lawn.
Stock up on dried cranberries now. Keep a few in a bowl for nibbling while you cook, and use the rest in some of these favorite dried cranberry recipes.
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