oregon cranberries and punchy cranberry sauce

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Cranberries, those American free spirits, are yet another reason to be proud of Oregon.  Grown in “bogs,” cultivated flooded areas, along the central coast, our cranberries are jewel-toned, drop-dead gorgeous, and better than other cranberries.  OK, maybe that last statement is a bit of an exaggeration, but think of it this way:  you know the really pretty, dark red, perfectly unmottled cranberries you see in your bag of Ocean Spray?  Those are the ones from Oregon.  :)

So where can you purchase these beauties?

Almost nowhere.

The Oregon cranberry crop is a commercial crop, and aside from a few farms and operations that have a personal, longstanding relationship with the cranberry growers on the coast, they are shipped out of the area and sent to the big corporate cranberry outfits away from the fair Pacific breezes.

We are fortunate enough to have one of those insiders: Detering’s Orchards in Harrisburg.  You can check out their site, listed to the right.  I spoke with the ladies there yesterday, and they explained that they drive down to Bandon to pick up a load of cranberries in the weeks before Thanksgiving, then bag them up in 2-lb bags for their customers.  They confirmed that you can’t even get them wholesale, and said that they probably won’t make the drive back to Bandon this season.  The prices are, well, almost embarrassing.  They could be charging twice what they’re charging without any complaints.  They should be. And the cranberries are beautiful and 100% local.  You don’t even have to pick out the pretty ones from the Ocean Spray bag.

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For those of you interested in my Gifts from the Kitchen class on December 13 — yes, I bought a bunch of them.  I couldn’t resist.  We’ll be doing local cranberry chutney or jams; I haven’t decided yet.  Are you still waiting to sign up? Comment here, or send me an email at wellsuited at gmail dot com, and I’ll get you set up.

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If you are unable to make it out to Detering’s Orchards before they run out, you can also purchase *frozen* local cranberries from the Willamette Valley Fruit Company at Market of Choice on 29th (and certainly other places — please comment if you know of others).  I don’t think freezing changes much of anything when you’re making cranberry sauce, since you want a cooked-down product, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Also worth noting: a reader commented that she’s seen a low-scale operation in previous years operating out of the parking lot in the Oakway center the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Apparently, a pickup truck full of the ruby darlings shows up from the coast, and you can get your cranberry fix that way.  Party in the back, indeed.    I’d love to hear of more places, if you know them!

Now, iffen you’re wanting a cranberry sauce recipe…jest sit right down and Auntie Eugenia will take care of y’all.

The following is, without any doubt, the best cranberry sauce I’ve ever tasted. For years, I made the cranberry-orange-cook-the-cranberries-til-they-pop-then-refrigerate-overnight sauce, which is fine, but one year, a friend brought this dish to my annual dinner, and I was hooked. The consistency and mouthfeel are divine: velvety, melty sweetness with just a few punches of tart to make it interesting. Being a fan of the tart punchiness myself, I added hot pepper and ginger to his recipe to make it utterly fascinating.

Punchy Cranberry Sauce

24 oz. cranberries (equivalent of two standard bags of berries)*
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups orange juice
zest of one orange
3 cinnamon sticks
2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
2 dried hot peppers (optional)

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the barest low simmer. Cook uncovered for about two hours, mushing the berries into a pulp after about an hour. In the second hour, watch the pot for potential burning, stirring frequently. The liquid will cook down and the berries will dissolve into a spreadable, thick, jam-like consistency. Remove cinnamon sticks, ginger, and hot peppers before serving. Good warm or cold.  You might want to make a double batch.  Last year, mine was gone before I had a chance to get seconds!

* The Detering’s bags, as I mentioned, are 2 lbs., or 32 oz.  Increase the orange juice and the sugar by a skosh if you have 32 oz.  This isn’t an exact science, so don’t worry too much about it.

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steak diane: this old house

Why do restaurants in Eugene still have Steak Diane on their menus?   I own a house built in 1947.  I know from mid-century vintage. Our house has sound plaster-n-drywall walls, sketchy wiring, not enough insulation, a firm foundation and a low profile.  We’ve done some basic upgrades to make the best of a great structure, and we love it all the more.  My call to you, Eugene Restaurants, is to do the same.

Steak Diane is not aging gracefully in these times of fresh, bright flavors and a wealth of grains and local vegetables.  There’s nothing wrong with the basic structure, but there are some outmoded flavors at work here.  The butter sauce is snoresville (and not to mention even more unhealthy than the steak it rode in on).   Let’s put this old gray mare out to pasture.

What exactly is Steak Diane?  A reference librarian on Food Timeline has culled various sources, including this one:

Evidence suggests Steak Diane is an American invention of the late 1950s/early1960s, when French cooking (think Julia Child & the Kennedy White House menus) was all the rage. Rich wine sauces and flamboyant presentation were the norm for many top restaurants. If Steak Diane is an American recipe, then New York City is the most likely place or origin. Jane Nickerson’s article “Steak Worthy of the Name,” (New York Times, January 25, 1953 p. SM 32) offers three likely candidates: “The Drake Hotel, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel and the Colony Restaurant each said, not knowing that any other dining place had done so, that their patrons praised their steak Diane. Nino of the Drake claimed he was the first to introduce this dish to New York and, in fact, to the entire United States. Essentially it consists of steak cooked in butter and further seasoned with butter mixed with fresh chives; usually the beef is pounded thin. The chef of each establishment has his own version.”

So basically, it’s steak fried in butter, with butter sauce.  There’s also the flambé nonsense, which isn’t mentioned in the quote above, but makes its outmoded presence known on the webpage. Egads.

Eugene restaurants add mushrooms and shallots to the recipe, so the dish is not only NOT Steak Diane, it has warts. Now, before you go medieval on my tush (or rather, mid-century on my tush), please know I don’t have anything against this kind of thing.  I like steak.  I like mushrooms.  But are we doing anyone a favor by taking up a place on menus all over town with it? Let’s reconceive steak in all its glory.  I feel this move is especially important now that local, grassfed beef is surging in popularity…even with former vegetarians who had cut out beef for ethical and sustainable farm issues.

There are thousands of combinations to sauce a slab of steak.  One of my favorites is also a classic, but still retains a contemporary charm, unlike Steak Diane.  I like to quickly chop up an Italian gremolata: a tablespoon of lemon zest, a large bunch of parsley, 3-4 garlic gloves and some sea salt all minced together finely.  I grill a steak (or rather, Retrogrouch grills it), let it sit for a few minutes to redistribute the juices, top it with portions of the mini-salad gremolata, and serve. This works just as well with a flavorful cut like a flank steak as it does a tender, mild cut like a filet.  It even works on pot roast.

Go green!  A creative chef, I am certain, could make many variations on this herby option.  Heck, even an uncreative chef could turn to other areas of Europe for inspiration.  My simple gremolata topping is just one example of a green sauce.  Not only are there several Italian green sauces, there are a French version, a fascinating Georgian one in my Culinaria Russia cookbook, and German green sauces that prove lovely accompaniments to roasted or grilled meats.

The German classic green sauce, a specialty of Frankfort, features a panopoly of herbs and some chopped hardboiled egg and oil.  Even Goethe loved it.  It would still appease the old guard, and appeal to the rest of us, who won’t shell out for a dull butter and mushroom sauce aging one of your highest ticket items.

Please, I beg you, air out the old house of Diane!  Fix her wiring!  Plumb her plumbing!  Sand her floors and paint her sills!  She’s got a strong foundation; she just needs some minor touch-ups.

lingering autumn cider jelly

One of the reasons I love being an American is fresh, seasonal apple cider.  I grew up in Michigan, where we take our apples seriously, and I don’t think there’s a single child in that whole state who didn’t love going to the cider mill for spiced, steaming hot cider and a fresh cider donut in the crisp days of October.  One of the great (and few) sadnesses of living in California for so many years was the lack of really good apple cider.  When we moved to rural New England, I was happy to have my cider back.  Now that we’re in Oregon, I have a new wealth of apple cultivars, and a few, precious repositories of cider.

You’d think I’d be satisfied with the seasonal goodness of that fresh cider, but I’m greedy, so I freeze what I can.  This year, I decided to try to make jelly out of the cider that could be used throughout the winter as an appetizer with cheeses and walnuts, a glaze for baked apple desserts and as layers in other baked goods, and of course, on toast.

Making jelly can be easy if you use commercial pectin, or a delicious pain if you don’t. I haven’t had the time to experiment with pectin-free apple cider jelly, but I do have a recipe that involves cooking apples, filtering twice, macerating overnight, adding cider, and blending it all together.  Sounds fantastic, but yeah.

If you’re going to go the commercial pectin route, there are two recipes I’ve found, a freezer jam using regular Sure-Jell pectin (i.e., not the freezer jam version, not the low-sugar version), and one using Pomona’s pectin, a natural pectin that uses calcium to allow for less or no sugar.*

One problem with the Sure-Jell recipe is that it is a freezer jam, which limits gift-giving opportunities and takes up freezer space.  Another is the sugar content.  The Sure-Jell recipe uses 3 cups juice to 5 cups sugar.  It will make more jelly, but achingly sweet stuff compared to the Pomona recipe, which uses 4 cups juice to anywhere from 3/4 to 2 cups sugar.

My aim is to keep the flavor as close to natural apple cider, with all its tart poetry, as possible.  Apples contain quite a bit of pectin naturally, so you don’t need to mess with them too much.  Even so, these recipes contain lemon juice, probably since they both call for apple juice instead of apple cider, which is an altered product with sugar and what-not.  I decided to leave in the lemon juice to combat the sugar, even though both shift the flavor a bit.

One needs to boil the cider to set the pectin, but boiling is the real problem when you’re trying to keep the flavor cidery.  Even pasteurization, a process that heats a product to kill microorganisms up to a certain temperature that’s less than boiling, will give a slightly “cooked” flavor to the cider.  So I recommend getting your juice up to a boil very quickly.

The processing time, 5 minutes in a boiling water canner, is necessary if you plan to store your jelly on the shelf or give it away for holiday gifts in December.  If you’re planning to just eat it quickly, don’t process it because the flavor will be fresher.  Just keep it in the refrigerator.

Lingering Autumn Cider Jelly

Makes 5 half-pints with a bit left over for sampling.

  • 1 quart (4 cups) fresh apple cider (UV-treated tastes better than pasteurized, if you buy it from a store)
  • Optional spice mix: one stick cinnamon, big pinch of whole allspice, pinch whole cloves, pinch cocoa nibs, one dried chili pepper
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 t. calcium water (in Pomona box)
  • 4 t. natural pectin (in Pomona box)

If you’re planning to spice your cider, start the day before canning.  Measure out your cider and place in a jar or bowl that can be covered.  Add cinnamon stick.  Place the other spices in a little cheesecloth square that can be tied shut with string, then add to the cider.  (OK, if you’re lazy like me, just add the spices without the cheese cloth and strain the juice later.)  Refrigerate cider with spices overnight.

Before beginning your jelly, wash your jars and sterilize them by boiling them in your canner for 5 minutes.  Wash your new lids and your rings.  Keep the lids and rings in water at a simmer (180 degrees), don’t boil them, in a small pot on the stove.  Filter out the spices from your cider and pour into a medium-sized pot.

To make jelly, follow the instructions on the bottom of the Pomona instruction sheet.  I adapted my recipe from the instructions for “tart apples.”  These are, basically, as follows:

Add calcium water and lemon juice to cider in the medium pot.  Bring cider up to a boil as quickly as possible.

As cider is heating, mix together the pectin and the sugar in a small bowl. Skim foam that rises to the surface of the cider.

When the cider comes to a boil, add in the sugar/pectin mix, stirring constantly for one minute, to melt the pectin.  If you don’t stir constantly, it will lump.

Remove from heat, fill hot jars, leaving a quarter-inch headspace, wipe rims, cover with lids and rings, and process for five minutes in a boiling water canner.

This recipe makes a firm jelly that will hold its shape.  You can unmold it from the jar by running the jar under hot water for a few seconds if you’d like to serve it at a party with cheese and crackers.

Enjoy fall in its finest, jellied form.

* If you live in Eugene, you can find this at Sundance, Market of Choice, and Down to Earth throughout the year.

This recipe won the Apple Cider challenge for the weekly Root Source Challenge over at Cookthink. Yay!

why I’m not participating in the eat local challenge

Exhaustion and poverty, mostly.  As a food blogger, these qualities tarnish my rep.  But the thought of driving all over town to secure one ingredient at double the price just doesn’t seem like fun if you don’t have something to prove. Plus, I don’t even have time to brush my hair (see Exhibit A, above).

The Eat Local Challenge is a great concept, challenging people across the country to eat local foods in October.  Understanding where your nourishment comes from (and how sustainable it is) really is no longer a matter of choice, as the economy worsens.  Check it out for some good ol’ fashioned consciousness-raising.  This exercise is much easier, of course, if you live in a place like the Bay Area, but I think it’s manageable in October in the PNW.  I’d love to hear about your successes.

But this year, I’m going to have to pass.  In my defense, we eat mostly local mostly all the time now at home.  I was pondering the failure of my competitive spirit over a very pedestrian meal of chicken wings, chopped salad, and broccoli last night.  I realized that I actually *do* drive all over town to secure ingredients (though I try to cut costs as much as possible).  In fact, just that day, I made a special trip back to Corvallis from Albany to get some meat and apple cider, then picked up my veggies at the CSA delivery point. Huh.  OK, I guess I can sort of still hold my head up high in the foodblog-o-sphere.

That night’s meal was really simple, almost an afterthought, but it used foodstuff gleaned from markets and gardens.  The only non-local product I used (besides the spices) was the chicken, and that was a pack of Washington-state grown and processed Draper Valley Farms chicken wing-ettes I bought on sale a couple of months ago.  I had planned to use my homemade barbecue sauce on them, but sourly realized I had frozen tomato sauce in the container marked “BBQ SAUCE 6/08” container after I removed it from the microwave.  Bad food preserver, bad!

The broccoli was from the farmer’s market on Saturday, the cucumbers were from my garden, the peppers were from the CSA and my garden, the tomato was from the CSA, the tomato sauce was mine, and the butter in the chicken wing sauce was local (Noris Dairy).  So I’m pleased.

I’m also pleased by the ad-hoc chicken wing sauce, which is basically an only mildly hot version of Buffalo chicken wing sauce.  It’s a tangy blend of melted butter and tomato sauce, spiced up with a shot of hot sauce, cider vinegar, and copious amounts of salt and pepper.  Easy, mostly local, and delicious.  I’m not going to pretend the butter makes it low-fat, but the grilled chicken wings (instead of deep-fried) should count for something, right?

The tomato sauce needs to be thick and rich.  If you’re using your own, boil it down until thick, or add a tablespoon of tomato paste.

Eugene Chicken Wings Sauce

  • 3/4 cup thick, rich tomato sauce
  • 1-2 T. Tabasco-style hot sauce (use at your discretion)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 T. cider vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Grill up your chicken wings or wing-ettes.  You can marinate the chicken with some barbecue rub and cider vinegar if you like, but be sure to salt and pepper it before grilling.

While the chicken is grilling, mix up the sauce.  Place the tomato sauce in a large bowl, large enough to hold the chicken later.  Melt the butter, then whisk it into the tomato sauce.  Add the hot sauce, cider vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Taste the sauce.  It should be creamy orange-red and taste tangy.  If it tastes flat, try adding more salt.  You might add some sugar for a more sweet-n-sour taste, but I find the sugar in the tomato sauce is enough for me.

When the chicken is done grilling, place it in the sauce bowl and toss with vigor, until all pieces are liberally coated with sauce.  Plate the meat and serve.  You could garnish it, but why?  Leaves you time to go hunt down a local, um, eggplant?  Vaya con Demeter.

mfp news and events

Just a quick note to announce some great news: the Master Food Preserver program is being officially extended, at least through October 23, to keep the hotline up and running through the harvest.

We’ll be selling cookies at the Lane County Master Gardeners Bulb Sale and demonstrating apple preservation at Detering’s Orchard Apple Days, both on October 6, if you want to come on by!

I dried close to a gazillion Prime Red apples for Apple Days, and am baking cookies and working a shift at the Bulb Sale.  I’ve been doing so much computer work, I’m excited to be out and about and thinking about fall gardening.

Also, one more reminder for the Gifts from the Kitchen class, which starts next Wednesday, October 8.  Click the link to the right for more information!

sweet openings

This week marks the new school year for universities and colleges in the Willamette Valley on the quarter system, and also the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah.  I’m not even remotely religious, but I do like me some food holidays, so you can bet Retrogrouch and I are eating sugary nothings to usher in a sweet new year.  The traditional snack is apples and honey, so I stopped off at the vegetable barn in Albany on my way back from teaching my poetry class at Linn-Benton in Corvallis, and picked up some local apples and apple cider. The honey I bought from a fellow MFP volunteer in Roseburg, who finds this Kauk’s Bees wildflower honey absolutely delicious, and I agree.  I don’t know what they’re feeding those bees with, but it yields deep and rich honey, like Meadowfoam honey, but without the slightly burnt aftertaste.

I do hope the year will be as sweet and soft as honey for all of us, or at least as crunchy and shiny as apples.  Or as steadfast as a gourd from my garden.  Or as big and happy as my pumpkin (and only slightly chewed).  I suspect this will be a rocky one, what with the economic crisis and all.  All I can say is hold your nose and close your eyes…maybe the elections will bring a bright spot of hope.

I’ve been crazy busy, spitting out articles left and right, and preparing all my materials for the big job season that’s underway.  In English, we have one big conference where almost all of the interviews happen.  Since I’m finishing my Ph.D. this year, it’s a crucial year for me, and I’m going to need every bit of sweetness I can get.  My first application goes out today.  So please help me celebrate the new — drink a big, cold glass of this season’s first crop fresh cider for me, thank you very much!