If cranberry sauce doesn't jiggle, is it truly a holiday feast?

HAPPY EATER

November 18, 1992|By ROB KASPER

I have two requirements for a holiday cranberry dish. First it should jiggle. Secondly it should smear well.

Jiggling is important because these meals are filled with tradition. And one of my earliest memories of what made a big holiday meal different from any other meal with a tablecloth was it featured a dish that wiggled. That would be the canned cranberry sauce, which we always called cranberry jelly.

As a kid I spent a great deal of the holiday meal watching cranberry slices vibrate on my plate. It was much more interesting than staring at the immobile brussels sprouts. I still feel that way.

The flavor of the canned cranberry sauce is nothing to shout about, but its entertainment value is as strong as ever. It shakes better than Paula Abdul.

Secondly, about the smear. Smearing is an essential after-hours attribute of the cranberry sauce. Late at night, after the holiday turkey has lost some its fresh-from-the oven moisture, it can be resurrected if it is slapped between two slices of rye bread and slathered with a thick layer of cranberry sauce.

Canned cranberry sauce has excellent smearability. It ranks right up there with mayonnaise and peanut butter, perhaps the world's leading sandwich coatings.

I know that canned cranberry sauce is scoffed at by the Cranberry Crusaders. This is a group of folks who behave in perfectly sensible ways, until it comes to eating cranberries, and sleeping with the window open. At the mention of cranberries all restraint is tossed out the aforementioned open window.

Cranberry Crusaders buy berries by the bogful. And, while they talk about cooking the berries and mixing them with other ingredients to make a bread or a relish, they secretly prefer to eat the berries raw.

Traditionally such extreme beliefs were confined to New

England, the most cranberry-intense area of the United States. But lately, thanks to marriage, migration and the upswing of interest in fruit juices, cranberry zealots have been popping up in the frozen Midwest, the sunny South, and the vitamin-obsessed West. In short, they are everywhere.

During most of the year the crusaders can keep their cranberry passion under control. They make a cranberry muffin or two, mix some cranberry juice with apple juice for a quick drink. And when they are in the company of fellow believers, they sing the praises of the berry's high levels of vitamin C, and its powerful quinic acid, which as all crusaders know, cleans out your kidneys.

But as the holidays approach, Cranberry Crusaders begin to lose control. They regard the elaborate holiday meals the way clothing designers see a New York fashion show -- namely a chance to show off the entire line of possibilities.

They put cranberries everywhere. They show up in the rolls, or in the bread. The cranberry juice isn't just mixed with apple juice anymore, it is also paired with pear or watermelon juice.

The cranberries are squashed and blended with McIntosh or Granny Smith apples to make a butter. They are baked and served with walnuts. They are tossed together with orange juice and orange rinds to make a relish.

For most of us life is a compromise, even when it comes to cranberries. In that spirit here is a recipe for a cranberry-orange relish from "The Thanksgiving Book" by Holly Garrison (MacMillan $23). It uses fresh berries. It doesn't vibrate. But it

does spread.

Cranberry-orange relish

Serves 8

12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries (3 cups) rinsed and picked over

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

1/3 cup orange liqueur

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon shredded orange rind

1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine all ingredients except orange rinds and walnuts in medium size, non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently until the cranberries begin to pop and mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in orange rind and walnuts, place mixture into container with tight-fitting lid. Cover and refrigerate until serving time, up to several days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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