Monday, December 19, 2011

Cranberries, the column

What can I bring for Thanksgiving dinner?, I asked my mom.
Hmmmm, how about the cranberries, she said.
Cranberries? Ugh, I thought.
I’m not a big cranberry fan, let alone cranberry eater. Cranberries are bitter. I think they taste like pink-colored acid.
Even the name sounds awful when you say it: “craaaaaanberries.”
Double ugh.
Now did I stop to consider for a minute that Grandma was doing all of the cooking for our annual feast? That she was hosting our family get-together?
Family and friends were coming. All I had to do was bring one little dish of cranberries. Was that really such a big deal?
I decided I better refocus.
How hard would it be to make a simple cranberry dish? I mean, you just buy a bag of cranberries and put them in the blender, right?
I can do this, I thought.
I got some cran-attitude. I’ll take those cranberries and show them who’s boss, I said.
I would become a cranberry connoisseur. This would become my own version of a Project Runway challenge. I’ll call it “The Cranberry Episode.”
I started doing cranberry research online. At one website, I found the mother of all cranberry recipes. It called for something like 14 ingredients. Yikes. I wanted to cook cranberries, not do a dissertation.
I thought of visiting for a cranberry recipe, but I was afraid of what I would find there. Martha would probably have me head to the nearest cranberry bog to personally pick my own berries.
My mom called. She may have sensed my cranxiety.
Another guest had asked if she should make cranberries, my mom said. Are you still bringing them?
Hey, no poaching my cranberries, I said. I got the berries. I got the recipe. I am on it.
OK, she said.
While my as-yet-fruitless search for a recipe continued, I had a moment of weakness where I considered chickening out by buying a can of cranberries. You know, the kind that comes out like a gel with the ridges from the can. A colleague at work told me that’s the kind she prefers. Maybe there are others like her out there. Maybe I would be doing everyone a favor by bringing cranberries-in-a-can.
Rallying, I Googled “easy cranberry sauce.”
Aha, here was something. A cranberry sauce calling for just four ingredients, one of them being sugar. Plus I could add other items for “additional flavoring.”
To combat the bitter cranberry taste I opted for blueberries, strawberries and plenty of sugar. My cranberry sauce would be sweet. So sweet that our dinner guests would think of it as a prelude to dessert. I envisioned it tasting something like a fruit compote, although what a compote was, I wasn’t exactly sure.
On Thanksgiving morning, I started cooking my cranberries. Adding the sugar and other fruit, I also tossed in some chopped pecans for the heck of it. A taste test of my sauce confirmed the sweetness factor. Ahhhhh…. now this was a cranberry sauce I could be proud of. Sweet. Not too tart. A little nutty. Perfect.
Normally I’d pass on the cranberries at Thanksgiving, but not this year. Sitting down at our dinner, I pushed those cranberries like I was the president of PR for Ocean Spray.
“Have some cranberries,” I said to one of guests. He paused as if to say no, but from the tone of my voice I think he could tell it wasn’t an option.
Sure, he said weakly.
Pass the cranberries around, I said loudly.
Girls, give me your plates for some cranberries, I announced. They knew better than to refuse.
Digging in, I tasted a piece of turkey, then mashed potatoes, and then the cranberry sauce. Not bad, I said to myself. Not bad at all. Could this be the beginning of a new cranberry-based relationship? What’s next, cranberry juice? Some cranberry cookies?
The next day, as I congratulated myself on my newly evolved relationship with cranberries, I made up a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, including a big drop of my sauce.
I popped in a mouthful. My mouth puckered on something tart. My tongue wanted to retreat. Ewwww, what was that sour taste?
Oh jeez, it was my cranberries. Yuck.

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