My Thanksgiving Task (Besides the Pies)
December 3, 2008
When I arrived in Minnesota last Tuesday night, my mom promptly handed me a fat file folder full of recipes. I flipped through them, stomach growling, and asked her which ones made the final cut for the Thanksgiving menu. “All of them,” she replied casually. No, I thought. Not possible. How would so many dishes be made in one kitchen? With four burners and one oven?
And I remained skeptical until I woke up on Thanksgiving morning around 8 a.m. to the sounds of the pots clattering, rutebagas banging on the counter, and the dog barking. I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen, bleary-eyed. There, I found mountains of peeled squashes and potatoes, enough diced onions to require an entire box of tissues, and my mom’s pile of recipes neatly divided into three stacks: those that were complete (at 8 a.m.!), those that were in progress, those that were yet to be made. The last of these stacks was by far the shallowest. My mom flipped through that pile, handed me one of the recipes in it and poured me a cup of coffee.
She’d handed me the recipe for these cranberries, so I staked out a little bit of counter (and elbow) space among my grandparents, my parents, an aunt and an uncle and got down to business. I didn’t want to be the faulty cog in such a well-oiled Thanksgiving machine.
The recipe was blissfully easy (Wednesday night had involved one of those impromptu high school reunions at a hometown bar and, well, there is really only one antidote to the awkwardness that ensues at those events and, lucky for me, at this particular bar it only cost about two dollars per pint; so, yes, an easy recipe was an absolute must). Just pour some fresh cranberries (ours were grown in Wisconsin and real beauties) into a heavy saucepan. Next, grate in a nub of peeled ginger and shower sugar over all of that. Finish it off with a couple glugs of sherry vinegar, mix and set the pot over a low flame.
The cranberries will simmer away slowly, breaking down with an occasional hiss or pop. Soon, the whole cranberries will have loosened into a thick liquid, sending wafts of ginger into the air to mingle with all the other wonderful holiday smells. In the end, I’m glad the cranberries were my job. They were beautiful (especially in the crystal bowl I plucked from one of my mother’s cabinets) and delicious—tart and smooth and interesting. And I think they straddle both the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. So, don’t tuck this recipe away until next November—put it to use this month.
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, ginger, and 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar.
Remove relish from heat. Let cool to room temperature, and serve (or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days).