My sister Jennifer and her husband Stanley Luce operate Highland Farms of Troy, where they raise Scottish Highland cattle, tend beehives, and maintain a cranberry bog.
I was delighted to receive a box of glossy, red berries in the mail with the card, “Happy Fall from our farm to yours!”
Cranberries, also known as “bounce berries”, because the ripe ones bounce, have long been part of the New England cuisine. Native Americans cooked and dried them, adding the fruit to winter stews and soups. They also made a made a food called pemmican, an early form of jerky. Thin strips of venison were pounded with cranberries and fat, then shaped into cakes and dried in the sun. Pemmican did not spoil easily, and provided convenient sustenance for long trips and cold winters.
Also utilized for medicinal purposes, cranberries were a dye and a food preservative. Early settlers quickly developed a taste for the many varieties growing wild in the fields and woods.
The scarlet berries store extremely well in the refrigerator or root cellar, often for as long as a month, and will maintain their quality for over a year in the freezer. Rich in Vitamin C and potassium, cranberries contain ellagic acid; a natural substance that preliminary research indicates may help prevent breast and other types of cancer.
Cranberries are really too tart to eat without sweetening. The Pequot Indians referred to them as i-bimi, meaning bitter berry. The tannins that make cranberry juice so effective against urinary tract infections are extremely sour. This makes the berry very effective in repelling pests. And because cranberries don’t need animals to disperse their seeds (they rely on water), they don’t sweeten as they ripen.
For baked goods, cranberries can be used fresh or directly from the freezer. A food processor comes in handy to do the chopping. We enjoy them in juice, sauces, chutney, relishes, and even cranberry ketchup.
The preparation for Brownie’s Cranberry Nut Bread is from my archives. Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf was home economics major, and a contemporary of my grandmother Hope at the University of Maine. For many years she wrote a weekly food column for the Bangor Daily News. She was also one of my early food heroes.
In this recipe, the 12-ounce package of cranberries sold commercially will yield a double batch of bread. You can omit the nuts, and I’ve often replaced the orange with apple. The batter makes into a nice muffin, and both bread and muffins freeze well.
Although Brownie is no longer with us, I still refer to many of her recipes for their local, down-home ingredients, simplicity of preparation, and timeless appeal.
BROWNIE’S CRANBERRY NUT BREAD
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup butter at room temperature
- ¾ cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups cranberries chopped
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan 9 by 5 by 3 inches or 3 tea bread loaf pans
- Grate the orange zest. Set aside.
- Squeeze the orange juice. Set aside.
- Add the nuts and cranberries to the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until chopped. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.
- Add the soft butter to the mixture. Using a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the orange juice, egg, and grated orange zest.
- Add the orange juice mixture to the flour mixture. Mix just enough to dampen.
- Carefully fold in the cranberries and the nuts.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter to corners of pan so that the sides are slightly higher than the center.
- Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes to 65 minutes, depending upon the size of the pan.
- Cool the bread in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to completely cool.
- Slice and serve!