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Stirring up memories


Sassamanash by any other name
December 10, 2003

         My son Christopher has always enjoyed cooking.  He also likes to kid around.  One year when he thought I was getting a bit lazy in the cranberry sauce department he presented me with a recipe for sauce:

 Chris’s Cranberry Sauce

Remove each end of a can of jellied cranberry sauce.  Run a knife down the inside of the can to loosen the sauce.  Gently shake onto a plate and cut into even slices.
            Many of us still prefer this recipe to any other when it’s served up along side steaming turkey and sage dressing.  But nevertheless, I got the message and expanded my cranberry repertoire.  I didn’t go as far as preparing pemmican—the pre-Pilgrim Native American delicacy that consists of dried meat pounded into a paste with animal fat, grain and cranberries.  But I did find many delightful ways to prepare this holiday fruit, and while I hunted them up, I also learned a little about the cranberry to boot.

Cranberries are native to North America.  Long before the Mayflower came ashore, Native Americans found many uses for sassamanash, as they called the berries.    They made plenty of pemmican (the berries are an excellent source of vitamin C), which saved well across the cold northern winters and was handy on long treks.  Cranberries also are an excellent source of dye (ask any cook who has put a stain on her company dress).

The Pilgrims took right to these bitter little berries.  There is no question that they originally called them crane berries.  But was it because they observed cranes dining on them, or because the early spring blossoms resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane?  No one knows for sure.

We do know they are a holiday season tradition throughout the United States and Canada.  Lucky, because this is the season when fresh cranberries are abundant.  They’ve been grown commercially since 1810.  The canned variety—both jellied and whole is available year round.  But this is the season to grab a sack or two in the produce department and cook up some Christmas treats.

Classic Sassamanash (Cranberry) Sauce

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

            Combine in a saucepan, stir until sugar is dissolved then bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

            Add one pound (4 cups) of clean and picked over cranberries.  Simmer the cranberries in the syrup uncovered without stirring until the cranberry skins pop and the syrup is thick and clear, about 5 minutes.  Skim off any foam and remove from the heat.  Serve room temperature or chilled.

Luxury Cranberry Sauce

1 can mandarin orange slices, drained

1 tablespoon Cointreau or other orange liqueur (or 1 teaspoon orange extract)

1 recipe classic cranberry sauce (given above)

            Cut each orange slice in half and add to the sauce.  Stir in the Cointreau. 


Cranberry-Red Pepper Relish

2 red bell peppers—cored, seeded and diced

2 cups cranberries

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

2 jalapeńo peppers (more or less to taste)

1/4 teaspoon salt

            Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has a jam like consistency, about 30 minutes.  Serve at room temperature.

            This is as good with ham or roast beef as it is with turkey. 

            When I visited with Jane Miller early in the summer, she shared this delightful recipe.  I saved it until now.  But it’s going to become a year-round treat at our house.  I always get enthusiastic and make more cranberry sauce than my family can ever eat.  This is a good way to use the extra.  It freezes well, too.

Jane Miller’s Fruit Compote

4 large apples—peeled, cored, and diced

1 can drained pineapple chunks

1 can whole cranberry sauce (or 1/2 recipe classic cranberry sauce)

            Combine into an ovenproof casserole. Top with a combination of 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup butter and 1 cup oatmeal.

            Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for one hour.

            There’s a new way to eat cranberries.  Sweetened, dried cranberries (trade-named Craisins) are available in the dried fruit department at the supermarket.  They are sweet like raisins but very tart.  Substitute them for raisins in practically any recipe.

            I remembered the good the praline-like buttermilk candy recipe that the Circle-K Club at Bainbridge College and thought the cranberries might be substituted for pecans.  I tried.  It’s good.  I named them cralines.


1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk

           Combine and cook for five minutes, then add 1/2 teaspoon soda.  Cook until a soft ball forms in cold water (235 degrees on a candy thermometer).  Add 1 6-ounce package dried cranberries, 1 1/2  tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or rum extract.  Stir and drop onto foil.

Chunky Cranberry Chocolate Cookies

2/3 cup butter

2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs

1 1/2 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned works best)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 6-ounce package dried cranberries

2/3 cup white chocolate chips

            Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

            Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs and mix well. Combine the dry ingredients and add to the butter mixture in several additions, blending well.  Stir in the dried cranberries and chocolate chips.   Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.

            Bake for 10-12 minutes until brown. Watch carefully.  They cook quickly.

Pumpkin Cranberry Cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup canned or cooked pumpkin

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 3/4  cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

            Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

            Cream the butter and sugar together.  Mix in the egg, pumpkin and vanilla.  Combine the dry ingredients.  Add dry into wet ingredients and blend well.  Stir in the dried cranberries.  Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.

            Bake for 10-15 minutes until brown.

            And one final recipe from my son Chef Chris.

Chris’s Poached Cranberries

            Bring 1 1/2 cups of balsamic vinegar to a gentle simmer.  Add one package (6 ounces) of sweetened dried cranberries.  Poach for about 20 minutes, then drain and cool.  Serve as a relish with cooked pork or turkey.

            Chris says your guests will either love or hate them. We love them, particularly with grilled pork chops.  Good all year!

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network