Savoring Fall (spiced cranberry chutney)
Thankfully, I’ve never experienced the canned, gelatinous disaster presented as an afterthought on so many Thanksgiving tables. If the only texture of your cranberry dish is the ribbing of the can from which it came, something’s wrong. I’m not sure what Amanda thinks, but I find it almost sacrilege that those bitter red berries are reduced to a diluted mush without any of their original character or brilliance. Think of how shameful it must be for those poor cranberries sentenced to canning. I imagine them wondering just where in life they went wrong to deserve such an inglorious fate. Should I have taken that extracurricular bush falling opportunity? Did I not pay attention enough during chemistry to learn about proper acidification? Most importantly, will my parents ever be proud of me?
This pondering came later in life though, because as early as I can remember my cousin’s grandfather always made a proper sauce with fresh cranberries. And the cranmommies and crandaddies of the berries he uses each year must beam with pride and send their neighbors and relatives obnoxious, overly glowing Christmas letters. “BennyBerry is the highest berry on the prestigious east-facing branch and worked so hard to achieve his deep red hue that area cooks took notice!” I love Mark’s sauce and am happy to know that I’ll get to taste it again come Christmas. I have the recipe somewhere, but when Amanda and I needed an acidic red foil to the sweet flavors of our peach and yam gnocchi dish (more on that later), the recipe was nowhere to be found.
Through the miracle of the internet, a quick search popped up this fresh cranberry chutney that spotlights the colors and flavors of fall. The fresh ginger, spices and oranges bring a depth to this holiday classic that will turn it into an annual favorite, not the dish everyone passes over in favor of green beans or yams. And I recently learned that oranges are a fall fruit, so the recipe really is all about fall. I swear, growing up in southern California with a dad who poo-poos fresh produce more than his toddlers really gives you an entirely warped perspective on seasons.
I’m slowly learning my seasons though and I’m sure this chutney will become one of my favorite late autumn traditions. Just like Mark’s entirely different – but just as seasonal and delicious – cranberry sauce was for me growing up. I don’t think I could choose between the two. In fact, while some families shuttle between the husband’s relatives for Thanksgiving and the wife’s for Christmas, I think my future family will go back and forth between this chutney for Thanksgiving and Mark’s sauce for Christmas. Let the family stuff fall as it will, but don’t get between me and my side dishes.
Spiced Cranberry Chutney
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Complete Entertaining Cookbook via Serious Eats
The main change I made was cutting the sugar in half. I tried the dish both ways – with the recommended 3 cups and with 1 1/2 cups and found the second version still plenty sweet. In addition to being less healthy, 3 full cups of sugar masked the other components of the dish too much for me.
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 whole, thin-skinned oranges with peel
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (or freshly ground, if possible)
1 cup raisins
If you’re orange-averse like myself, have someone else chop up the oranges for you. Note that you should leave the peel on the oranges. That’s not a typo in the ingredient list. I’ve never peeled an orange and hope never to peel an orange, so I would never write up a recipe telling you all to do so. Finely chop oranges in a blender.
Combine water and sugar in a medium pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add oranges and ginger and reduce the heat. Let simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.
Add cranberries, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer 15 minutes. Sauce should thicken during this time. Add raisins and cook for an additional 7 minutes, until sauce starts to bubble. Let cool before serving. Serve as is, or as a topper on a savory dish.
Sauce can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.