cranberry chutney to put that ZING in thanksgiving

IMG_4799All cranberry chutneys that are safe to can seem the same to me.  There are more interesting recipes in, say, my Ball Blue Book from 1942, and in Indian cooking forums online, but nothing in any of the canning books that I finds different enough to use as that subversive flavorbomb.

So I modified one.  This is a perfectly safe slight modification of the USDA-approved canning recipe for cranberry chutney.  The sugar and vinegar amounts need to remain the same, but you might add some lemon zest or orange peel, if you like, or substitute all raisins or apricots for the half-and-half dried fruit mixture.  Make it yours.  Give it as gifts throughout the holiday season.

The pictures above and below are not cranberry chutney.  Cranberry chutney always looks the same.  Instead, they are from the Laughing Stock Farm turkey kill day, where I worked slinging pancetta bacon and crêpes for customers this year with my friend Del, the charcutier.  Some of that cheese is his, and some the other cheesemaker, Susan’s.  The turnovers were filled with cranberry filling and baked in the clay oven in the barn.

The whole day was a blast and I want to do it again.  Folks can participate in that very important and emotionally difficult process of slaughtering their own meat, and learning about the steps that go into humane and efficient processing of the bird.  I’m growing more and more awed by the sacred process of taking a life for human consumption.  I’m sure I’m going to write more about it.

IMG_4771 IMG_4774 IMG_4800 IMG_4804 IMG_4781But for now, cranberry chutney.  Tart, acidic, spiced, tangy cranberry chutney.  I pulse the dried fruit and mince the onions finely so they remain small, and I don’t cook the cranberries down enough to make a real sauce, since I want to be able to see the berries.  I also add mustard seed and a chopped up Asian pear for texture.  The latter raises the pH just a tad, but the chutney is so acidic with the cranberries, grapefruit juice, and vinegar, I’m not too worried.  If you are, leave it out.

Yes, you’re that kind of girl, the one who isn’t allowed to change Thanksgiving, but sends subversive operatives in to flavorbomb that mess around.  This is your recipe.

(P.S.  For the rest of youse: need a recipe for the best cranberry sauce EVER?)

Cranberry Chutney for the Thanksgiving Rebel

Makes 9-10 half pints.

  • 8 cups (about 32 oz. weight) cranberries
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar (5%)
  • 1 cup cranberry juice or grapefruit juice
  • 1 Asian pear, chopped into small pieces
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
  • 2 cups minced white onion
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup dried cherries (or Craisins)
  • piece of fresh ginger, about 3 inches by 2 inches, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • dried chile flakes or Hell Dust smoked chile flakes (optional)

Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Wash and pick over cranberries.  Place in stockpot with sugar, vinegar, juice, Asian pear, mustard seed, and cinnamon.  Bring to boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, mince the onion and add to pot.  Pulse the raisins, cherries, and ginger in the food processor until in small bits.  Add to pot with chile flakes, if using.

Stirring very frequently, cook until cranberries are soft and some are bursting, but chutney is not turned into sauce, perhaps 10 minutes more.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top, if necessary. Spoon the hot chutney into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

Note: chutney is best if you let the flavors develop for a few days.  You may also choose to freeze it instead of canning it.

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separate two eggs: briefest shelter, most fleeting piece of mind

IMG_4780I’ve been tongue-tied, unpalatable, and without appetite lately, sorry.  It’s hard to write didactic prose when your thoughts are stubbornly fixated on impermanence.  I’ve been mucking through applications (always an existential crisis), writing, putting up the harvest, traveling for food assignments, organizing as little as possible, and attempting to plan less and live in the moment more.  This is like telling a tomato not to ripen or a squirrel not to pack its cheeks with apples and bury nuts in the ground. But I’m fighting.

Part of me resists, insisting I’m not a Buddhist, and dammit, stop forcing meditation and all that American liberal Zen shit on me.  And another part of me is all:

The waters of a flowing stream are ever present but never the same; the bubbles in a quiet pool disappear and form but never endure for long.  So it is with men and their dwellings in the world.

I’m fermenting, watching bubbles appear and disappear, watching new life rise from decay.  Part of me thinks it’s inexpressibly sublime.  And another part of me is all:

When a man observes the conventions, he falls into economic difficulties; when he flouts them, people wonder if he is mad.  He who depends on another belongs to another; he who takes care of another is chained by human affection.

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And I’m cooking; I’m teaching someone to whom I’m chained by human affection to cook.  I see love in his eyes.  And I’m raking my leaves and riding my bike and occasionally I can bear company and new projects, and more importantly, it’s no longer complete hell to witness the decay of the ruins of the architecture of the life I built and bolstered and finished and painted and decorated and defended like a settler.  Part of me thinks: time passes; new lives are built and they will need your paintbrush and shotgun.  And another part of me is all:

Where can we live, what can we do, to find even the briefest of shelters, the most fleeting peace of mind?

And one answer is literature, of course. No house, no fragile body, nothing the process of life ingests and digests and turns to refuse, nothing that can be set afire or drowned in a flood or splintered to bits or mortgaged and repossessed and reinhabited. Ideas linger and have afterlives.

If there’s any one thing that make my Japanese degree worth the suffering (Highest Honors and Department Citation, U.C. Berkeley, B.A., pwnd, humblebrag, LOL, thankyouverymuch), it was medieval recluse Kamo no Chomei’s “Hojoki” or “An Account of My Hermitage.” The tale of the hermitage is a story of a man who left home to live in a tiny hut in the mountains after witnessing natural disasters and waves of destruction in the capital at Kyoto in the 13th century.   I’ve taught it a couple times right around now, right before the students went home for Thanksgiving, many for the first time since entering college.  I ask them to think about their idea of home, and what it will be like to see their old bedrooms, their old friends, and whether they think home is permanent or impermanent.

IMG_0888A part of me thinks: it’s a bit unfair, I know, a bit manipulative.  But then: this work has given me so much food for thought over the years and I read it first when I was in college, what, 19? 20?; seed it for when they really need it.   And I think they do appreciate it, because for many it’s the first time they really connect with literature; they really get it that a medieval recluse can sing out from the hills of Hino and capture your breath in his ten-foot-square hut.  So that’s worth it, right, for the price of a little innocence?

And I’m thinking about this, as usual, when the sweet, cute, serious, dedicated Iranian girl in the front row in November 2012 raises her hand and shares with the class that she’s not able to go home because of the distance.  But that’s ok, because she’s so grateful to be here at the university, but she’s under so much pressure to do the best she can for everyone at home, for her family and for all the girls who can’t get an education in Iran.  And suddenly she’s crying and I’m crying and the class is crying…

Men do not usually build houses for their own benefit.  Some build for wives, children, relatives, and servants, some for friends and acquaintances, some for masters, for teachers, and even for household goods, treasures, oxen, and horses.  But I have built for myself this time, not for anyone else.

The responsibility — the weight — of others certainly doesn’t give more than a brief shelter, any fleeting piece of mind.  But is it better to let go and build for oneself?  Kamo no Chomei finally concludes no (sorry for the spoiler).  One shouldn’t build at all, just marvel at the bubbles in the stream appearing and disappearing, breathing in, breathing out.  It’s against cultivation, against stability, against bolstering and against defense.  And then it’s amazing how little anything really matters.  Completely.  Utterly.  Terrifying.

And surely out of place in the type of food blog that’s supposed to represent normative family values and the insidious re-domestication of women.  And not at all a shelter for a planner, someone who invests in the future.

So I hold my impure tongue, fall silent.

Italicized quotes are from Helen Craig McCullough’s translation of Kamo no Chomei’s “Hojoki,” which she translates as “An Account of My Hermitage,” a slight failing in an otherwise wonderful translation, because it fails to convey the tiny size of the “10-Foot-Square Hut” we see in the original and in other translations.  Still, it’s the only translation worth reading, in my opinion, for the beauty and elegance she conveys, and sometimes adds.  It appears in her anthology of Classical Japanese Prose (Stanford, Stanford UP, 1990).  You can also read an online translation here.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).