Gunthorp Farms and Leftover Cranberry Sauce: A Small Thanksgiving Post-Mortem

A Word about the Bird

This may have been my best turkey ever! Delicious flavor that didn’t NEED gravy (although gravy certainly wasn’t turned down!) This year’s bird was a Gunthorp Farms turkey, a fine-looking, pasture-raised 15-lb bird. Gunthorp Farms raises meat and poultry naturally, as opposed to an industrial model, and provides turkeys (and chicken, duck, lamb, and pork) to some of the best restaurants in the Midwest, including those of Rick Bayless. Starting out with quality poultry is one of the keys to a delicious Thanksgiving turkey.

I also roasted the turkey breast-side DOWN. The breast meat was unbelievably moist and the dark meat was perfectly cooked. Granted, you don’t get the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect bird, but I’d much rather have a good TASTING turkey than one that is dry, but photogenic. Which is why there’s no picture here.

Too Much Cranberry Sauce? Ideas for Using Up Leftovers

It happens. With your cranberry bounty from Wisconsin, you made plenty of cranberry sauce, like this one. But there is plenty left over, too. So, what can you do with leftover cranberry sauce? Lots of things!

  • Stir it into yogurt or oatmeal
  • Thin it with a little juice (or even a little water) and use it as a topping for ice cream, pound cake, cheesecake, or waffles
  • Make thumprint cookies (here’s a classic recipe), replacing the jam with cranberry sauce (which is, basically, a jam).
  • PBandC_Sandwich

  • And here’s a personal favorite of mine—use some in a peanut or almond butter and jam sandwich. I especially like natural peanut butter (crunchy!) on good homemade or artisanal bread with cranberry sauce
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Orange-Cranberry Sauce, Plus Variations

Making cranberry sauce is ridiculously easy. If you’ve always used canned sauce, why not switch to homemade? This recipe is simple and can be put together quite easily on the day of the Thanksgiving feast or it can be made ahead of time. Remember that cranberries have an enormous amount of pectin, so the sauce gels pretty quickly. If you like a looser sauce, cook it for a shorter period of time. If it’s gotten too thick for your tastes, thin with a bit of orange juice or brandy.

This recipe makes 1 cup, so it’s appropriate for Thanksgiving dinners with fewer people. Just double it if you want a larger amount.

What You’ll Need

  • a small saucepan
  • a zester
  • wooden spoon
  • measuring cup and measuring spoons
  • a jar or bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest (from half an orange)
  • pinch or two of ground cloves

Ingredients

How to make the sauce

  1. Put sugar, water, and orange juice into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and stir until sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally.
  2. CookingBerries2

  3. Add the cranberries and cook until they pop, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. You can always smash them against the side of the saucepan with your spoon.
  4. BerriesPopping

  5. Remove from heat and stir in the orange zest and the cloves.
  6. Place in a bowl and cool to room temperature. Serve or refrigerate for up to a week.

FinishedSauce

Variations

With Walnuts

Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped toasted walnuts after removing the sauce from the heat. Be sure to toast first, so that the walnut flavor comes through the orange and sugar.

With Ginger

Omit the cloves. Add 2-3 tablespoons of chopped candied ginger after removing from the heat.

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Badgering for Cranberries

Native to North America, cranberries make their way onto Thanksgiving tables every year in the form of sauce or relish. But the ruby-red fruit doesn’t disappear once Black Friday (or these days, the combined holidays of Thanksgiving and The Advent of Christmas Shopping) rolls around. You see, cranberries aren’t just for Turkey Day anymore.

RedCranberries

Wisconsin—America’s Cranberry Capital

The berry once called “craneberry”1 by European settlers to North America is an agricultural mainstay here in the Flyover States. Wisconsin, the Badger State, is the US state producing the most cranberries, growing over half of the nation’s supply, with 19,700 acres harvested2. Massachusetts is number two (13,000 acres), with New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington rounding out the top five. Not only does Wisconsin produce the most in terms of acreage, its yield per acre (245.2 barrels) is the most of any cranberry-growing state. I guess Wisconsin isn’t just for cheeseheads anymore—cranheads anyone?

And just what are those fruits used for? Well, most are processed into juice and sauce, both of which require sugar to overcome the cranberry’s strong acidity. Dried, sweetened cranberries are another way they are used as food—these find their way into granolas, baked goods, or snack mixes. Come fall, fresh cranberries can be found in supermarkets; they freeze well, so buy a few extra bags to tide you over until they appear the following fall.

SandHillOrganic

Cranberry—The Plant

The species Vaccinium macrocarpon, the large cranberry or American cranberry, is the fruit familiar to the American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinner table, typically in the form of a sauce to accompany the traditional turkey. The cranberry plant is a dwarf shrub and the berries it produces are whitish at first; only upon ripening do they turn red.

Like blueberries, cranberry bushes grow in acidic soils. They require plentiful water, though a constantly flooded habitat is not required. Historically, cranberries grew in wetlands—marshes and bogs. Commercial cultivation replicates wetlands conditions in order to maintain an environment conducive to cranberry growth.

Cranberry—The Harvest

Historically, cranberries were harvested by hand. But as the cranberry industry grew, the harvesting methods became more efficient and sophisticated. Today, there are two types of harvesting—wet and dry.

Wet Harvest

Berries processed for juice and sauce are usually harvested via the wet method. This is the process seen in photos with growers wearing waders and chasing a flotilla of berries. To harvest with this method, the bogs are flooded prior to harvest. Equipment called water reels agitate the water, which in turn loosens cranberries from the plant. Then they float to the surface, thanks to the air pocket found in each cranberry. The growers then gather the cranberries together for shipping and processing.

Dry Harvest

The dry harvest process is more akin to other types of agricultural harvesting. A mechanical picker strips the bush with mechanical teeth, which separates the berries from the bush. Fresh berries (those found in cellophane bags in market produce departments) are harvested using the dry method.

CranberriesTwoTypes

Ocean Spray cranberries in the bag and Sandhill organic cranberries in the box.
FreshFromWisconsin

Cranberries in Native American Cuisine and Culture

Since cranberries are native to North America, they featured in the diet of the indigenous populations. Among the Native names from cranberries were atoqua (Algonquin), ibimi (Lenni Lenape), and sassamanesh (other Eastern tribes). Pemmican, a mixture of local berries like cranberries, fat, and dried venison or other game, served as an important source of calories for many Native Americans. Additionally, it had strong keeping qualities—the combination of the acidic cranberry plus the fat meant that pemmican could be stored for long periods of time. Cranberries were also eaten fresh and dried (sans game). This is not surprising, given their nutritional benefits; cranberries are an antioxidant powerhouse, loaded with Vitamin C.

Cranberries were also used medicinally. Among their uses were blood purification, treatment for fever, and use as a laxative. Additionally, the bright color of ripe cranberries allowed them to be used as dyes for textiles.

The Thanksgiving-Cranberry Connection

We probably have the Ocean Spray company to thank for the ubiquitous inclusion of cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table. While cranberries had been eaten earlier (and may have been part of Thanksgiving), Ocean Spray’s first commercial product was jellied cranberry sauce. Formed as a cooperative by three growers in 1930, Ocean Spray has grown to a 700-grower cooperative today. Although they’ve introduced numerous other products, they still make that jellied sauce. And, of course, they produce fresh cranberries, for those of us who would like to make our own sauce.

1It was so called because the flowering fruit was thought to resemble a crane.
2Data are from 2012. The source is the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

References

The Oxford Companion to Food, Second Edition (Alan Davidson)
www.oceanspray.com
www.sandhillcranberry.com
www.cranberries.org

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Why-owa? My Thoughts on the Farmers Market State

My Connection to the Hawkeye State

In the early aughts (2002-2003), I spent a year as a visiting instructor at the University of Iowa, which meant living in the Iowa City area. Having known very little about the Midwest (except that it was some place I never imagined living in), I was beyond pleasantly surprised by Iowa City (although, as a student told me, “Iowa City is not what you think of when you think of Iowa”). I really loved my year here, even those winter mornings featured a few too many temperature readings below 0°F.

In Which She Marvels at the Food Available to Her

Let it be said at the time, I was (and still am) what would be termed a “healthy eater”. Definitely a food lover (why else would I write this blog?), but certainly leaning toward the healthy end of the spectrum. At the time, that was high-fiber, low-fat, semi-vegetarian (today such a diet is no longer the sin qua non of healthy eating, as meat and butter and such have made quite the comeback). But I had no trouble finding organic vegetables, tofu, tempeh, exotic cheeses, interesting grains and the like. In fact, I joined the New Pioneer Food Co-op within 6 hours of moving to Iowa. What a magical place that was for me! Two branches—one (complete with a bakehouse turning out marvelous and inventive breads) within a short walk of my apartment and one within a short walk of my campus office. I was in gustatory heaven!

Then there were the restaurants. Spanning the globe in terms of cuisines, as well as ways of eating (e.g. vegetarian), I had numerous choices on the days I opted not to cook (which were many, given that I was finishing a dissertation at an East Coast school and teaching a full load of mostly new classes at Iowa). Granted, Iowa City is a Big Ten (or 11 or 12—I’m out of touch with this now) with a large medical school (and dental school and law school) to boot, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. But (and this was probably some residual East Coast elitism) I was nonetheless pleasantly delighted at my options!

But one of the things I really loved were the farmers markets. Yes, plural—I shopped at the Iowa City one (open twice a week) and the Coralville one (once a week). And now there’s a third one in the old Sycamore Mall location. Anyway, the array of produce options and other goods (breads, etc.) was wonderful. So, when I ran the numbers for farmers markets, I really wasn’t that surprised. There’s clearly a market for farm-fresh products in Iowa. Iowa has a food-aware populace (why else would my coop—and I’m still a member—have two locations, with a third on the way). And, also important, there are actual farmers there as well. So to me it makes sense that Iowa leads the farmers market charge!

SeedSaversGiantZittauOnion

And Something Else: Seed Savers Exchange

Iowa is also the home of the United States’s premier organization devoted to the preservation of heirloom varieties of produce and plants, as well as heritage breeds of animals, Seed Savers Exchange. This nonprofit has been around since 1975. I’ll post about it some other time (as I was fortunate to visit this past summer), but to me it is another indication of the food (and food-issue) cognizant people you find in Iowa. No, it’s not all heirloom peaches and heritage cream (I drove by a Monsanto plant and did give them the finger), but there is a critical mass there.

SeedSaversFlowers

Why-Owa? Iowa!

In short, finding Iowa front and center in the number of farmers markets per capita is almost expected. There’s farmland, farmers, and a ready (and educated) populace—ingredients for a successful farmers market locus!

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