My daughter was out visiting this past Sunday; she’s in the city and I live in the outskirts, so to visit is a bigger deal, especially now with two young children. It was fun to be with the granddaughters and just visit for a while. She returned to work last week, so we’ll see her less now. Her sister-in-law and family are coming to stay for Thanksgiving, so my daughter will do the dinner this year, with me bringing odds and ends. We made a list of the possible menu, and one of the musts I will bring is cranberry relish. It’s one of those traditions that must BE.
I don’t know when or where I found the recipe, but I have it clipped and taped into a recipe box I’ve kept for all my married life. Simple. Just grind one pound of cranberries, two navel oranges and one cup of walnuts. Add one cup of sugar and it’s complete! We love it, or at least most of us do. It brings back memories of the many times I’ve made it, like the first time my son and my daughter were old enough to help with the grinding. I have an old metal grinder. You know - the kind that attaches to the cabinet shelf. I have used it sparingly because I no longer make ham salad, and never have made sausage. I have made pimento cheese with it, but not for years. Now, it is taken out only for cranberry relish. It makes a mess when we grind because of the juiciness of the fruit, so we put down newspapers and a big bowl that will catch much of the drips. To make about a quart, it really is a big production, but as I said, it’s an important Thanksgiving preparation production! I remember trying to use the workbench in the garage because of all the mess, but nearly froze because it was so cold. And I remember doing it for the first time with my grandson. One year we heard about a new kind of relish on NPR from Susan Stamberg’s Mama. It sounded awful, but we decided that something new would be interesting, so traipsed around at the last minute finding horseradish and sour cream. Sorry, but I still can’t believe that anyone likes it. It was awful! The next year, we returned to our own cran relish.
The history of cranberries, according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association is one of only three native fruits that are commercially grown, along with Concord grapes and blueberries. On one of the trips to the Boston area with my students during a year of studying American history, we visited a cranberry grower, and their bogs, harvested a few, and discussed the environmental needs and challenges today. We bought some cranberries and later cooked them in our kitchen, serving up a big pot of sweetened berries with the oatmeal the next morning. It was fascinating to see where they grow for us in Colorado, where we live in such a dry climate that never will we see a bog growing these berries. This same growers’ site says: The name "cranberry" derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, "craneberry", so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. European settlers adopted the Native American uses for the fruit and found the berry a valuable bartering tool.
Another web site, Cranberry Creations, gives information about Native use of the berry: The Lenni-lenape Indians of New Jersey called the cranberry "ibimi" meaning 'bitter berry.' They used this wild red berry as a part of their food and as a symbol of peace and friendship. The Chippawas called the cranberry "a'ni-bimin," the Alogonquin called it "atoqua," and the Naragansetts called it "sasemineash." Native Americans would eat it raw, mixed in with maple sugar, or with deer meat (as a dried "Pemmican").
It’s a good thing to have traditions and it’s a good thing to try new things once in a while, and I apply this to my teaching as well. If we travel to eat elsewhere, we may have to settle for that jellied stuff that comes from a can, sliced into small rounds, put onto lettuce with other fruit. It’s not the kind of cranberry dish I “relish”, but may be for others. Sometimes I add cranberries to a sweet potato casserole, and I keep bags of berries so I can add them to banana or pumpkin bread. Not only are they delicious, but are considered one of the “super foods”, with several health benefits. We will have cranberry relish as long as we have our Thanksgiving dinners together. It’s tradition!