Wild Wild Cranberries

cranberries020The Hamptons, and East Hampton in particular where Steve and I have our house, get a lot of play in the press for the flashy exploits of the cast of characters who make it their summer playground.  Too bad the real picture isn’t as well known. On the southern fork of Long Island, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town comprise 200 square miles of land surrounded by Atlantic beaches, bays, harbors, ponds and wetlands.  Since the late 1600’s this unique strip of land has been home to farmers, fishermen and whalers.  The whalers are gone but the farming and fishing live on, as do many tracts of preserved woodlands and waterfronts.   Yeah, less so than in years past, but there’s still plenty of beautiful outdoors to explore year round. The farms in this area produce wonderful fruits and vegetables every summer, inspiring me every year, including this recipe for Wild Wild Cranberries.

Beach plum season having passed, it’s time for the wild cranberry bog at Walking Dunes in Napeague.  Every year this valley nestled in a series towering horse-shoe shaped dunes produces an abundance of wild cranberries.  We had a lot of rain the night before, so the bog was boggy — but no matter, gathering two quarts of ripe berries was 45 minutes of time spent with our friends Gena and Kevin.

When you take the trouble to pick your own cranberries, you really want them to shine.  Cook only the briefest amount of time so the berries are intact, just burst open. And better still if not all have popped. You want this to be rustic.

The second “Wild” in the title refers to the addition of fresh jalapeno for some heat and crunch, crystalized ginger for the zing, orange rind to add its subtle flavor, and a bit of honey for a homey sweetness.  All used sparingly — the cranberries are center stage and the others are the chorus backing up the star. Continuing with this metaphor, I guess the little bit of dried cranberries included in the recipe would be the stage crew — they’re there to make sure the show runs smoothly.

Cranberry sauce can’t get any more spectacular when made with berries you plucked from the wild.  But this recipe does work perfectly with store-bought too.

Wild Wild Cranberries
8 c. wild cranberries, washed
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, diced
zest of 1 large orange (the Rosle zester http://www.chefsresource.com/rosle-zester.html makes the longest, thinest shreds that cling to the berries)
1 T. finely chopped candied ginger

Bring the water, sugar and honey to a boil in a large wide skilllet, making a sweet syrup. Add the dried cranberries, jalapeno, orange zest and candied ginger. Stir so the ginger and cranberries don’t stick together in clumps. Add the wild cranberries, keeping the syrup at a boil.

Almost immediately you will hear small popping sounds, the cranberries bursting open. Continue to stir gently. The goal is to cook until about half of the cranberries have broken open. Watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes (and this is why you want a skillet rather than a pot, it’s easier to keep your eyes on things). Take off the heat while there’re still many berrries intact. More will burst in the residual heat as the skillet cools, and as you stir a little more before serving.

Cool to room temp and serve the same day you make it (this is preferred).  But you can also refrigerate or freeze until ready for unveiling. Choose your most elegant crystal bowl for presentation at table. Wild Wild Cranberries deserve nothing less.

One last thing — while this recipe could be easily home-canned, the extra cooking it would undergo during the boiling water bath would reduce the integrity of the barely-cooked berries, so you’d end up with more pedestrian results.  Freshly made is best.


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Written by on October 28, 2009 under East Hampton, Foraging, Sauces.

  • http://twitter.com/JunBelen Jun Belen

    WOW! Picking wild cranberries is so cool! I hope to get to do this some time!

    • http://www.spectacularlydelicious.com Sean

      When you come east, come out to EH — there’s cool fishing, foraging, clam
      digging, all sorts of stuff going on year ’round. Sean

  • Kate

    Cranberries are another favorite especially when they are fresh. I’ve been teased about having a little turkey with my cranberry sauce I like them so much.

    TJ and I used to go to the cranberry bogs in MA every October to watch them flood the bogs and harvest the berries. The red berries floating on the bogs are just beautiful especially against a backdrop of fall leaves and bright blue skies.

    Cranberries are so much better when they are first picked than they every taste when you get them from the market. Well worth the effort.

    • http://www.spectacularlydelicious.com Sean

      I certainly see how flooding the bogs makes it easier to pick them. It’s
      fun for an hour or so to kneel down and pick them, but if you had to work
      your way though days on end… yikes. Whoever figured that one out was
      pretty smart

  • http://whatjuliaate.blogspot.com Julia

    Love it! Did you do rose hips too? So many out where you are. I missed them this year.

    • http://www.spectacularlydelicious.com Sean

      I have never done rose hips, but you’re right, come summer’s end they are
      everywhere. I guess it’s b/c I’ve never tasted RH jelly — I suppose the
      only way I’m going to is to make some. Thanks for the inspriation!

  • Marian

    Rose hips jelly is great – don’t think roses; more citrusy. My sister has an entire hill of them in Westhampton Beach on Oneck Canal that I am fairly certain are fume free, except for the occasional boat. After the first frost, when everyone has vacated the area, I’m out there with scissors “pruning” away. Have also denuded a few bushes along Dune Road but not quite fume free given the traffic, but there is rarely idling on the road so I’m ok with it. I’ve tried rose hips rhubarb which is great but depended on me having one last bag of rhubarb in the freezer when the rosehips were ready. That’s not likely to happen again…..I’m sure you could get a ton of clean rosehips in Napeague, probably the same time you get the cranberries. I always mean to take a trip out to get the cranberries since I begged Eugenia Bone to tell me where she found them when she posted a couple of years ago. This November for certain. PS I did make your wild wild cranberry jelly this year for Thanksgiving and it was a hit and is definitely in the rotation.

    • http://www.spectacularlydelicious.com Sean

      Good idea about the fume-free rose hips. There are plenty at the beach
      parking lots, never thought about all the exhaust. But there are other
      places up in Northwest to forage. Fall will be here before we know it!

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