Alan Tangren: Cranberries brighten fall meals |

Alan Tangren: Cranberries brighten fall meals

Dear Alan: I want to use fresh cranberries this year, not the canned version. Any ideas for easy recipes?

Alan: I love seeing cranberries ay this time of year. Fresh cranberries are easy to use. Their tart flavor and bright red color are just what is needed to add lightness and freshness to the fall table, a welcome partner for fatty meats, particularly pork and poultry.

Cranberry juice on its own makes a refreshing drink anytime, poured over ice, or use it in a mixed drink or holiday punch.

But cranberries also have a long history in North American cooking. They have grown wild in damp boggy areas from before recorded history, from Newfoundland down to the Carolinas and west to the prairies.

Cranberries are available fresh from October through December, and because they keep well, they can be found fresh through most of the winter. Large quantities are grown in wet, boggy areas of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.

Native Americans in the East and Midwest added wild cranberries and blueberries to pemmican, a preserved meat mixture, and made an early version of cranberry sauce, sweetened with maple syrup or honey.

Cranberries are available fresh from October through December, and because they keep well, they can be found fresh through most of the winter. Large quantities are grown in wet, boggy areas of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.

At the market, choose cranberries that are firm, plump and brightly colored. Sometime available in bulk, they are usually sold fresh in 12-ounce plastic bags, so it’s important to sort through them as soon as you get home.

Open the bag and pour out the berries on a big tray or platter. Toss out any that are soft or shriveled. Stored in a covered container, cranberries will keep for weeks in the refrigerator and months in the freezer. Count on getting 1 cup of berries for each 4 ounces by weight.

Homemade cranberry sauce is so easy to make. Just put 2 cups cranberries in a saucepan and add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water or fresh orange juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries pop. Cool and serve right away, or refrigerate for longer storage.

Another quick sauce that doesn’t require cooking is even easier. Combine 2 cups cranberries and 1 orange cut in quarters, skin and all, (minus any seeds) in a food processor or food grinder. Grind or process to a slightly chunky purée. Add ¾ cup sugar and let sit for an hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

This is one of my favorite late fall desserts, and one that the pastry cooks at Chez Panisse still make. Serve it with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. The orange juice and zest in the cake compliment the cranberries beautifully.

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2-3/4 cups fresh cranberries

1 medium juice orange

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Use an 8-inch square cake pan or 9-inch round, at least 2-inches deep. Place the 4 Tablespoons butter and the brown sugar in the cake pan and place pan on a stovetop burner over medium-low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the butter has melted and the sugar is bubbling. Remove from heat and let cool.

Scatter the cranberries evenly in the bottom of the pan. Grate the orange zest and reserve 1 teaspoon. Juice the orange and drizzle ¼ cup of juice over the cranberries. Set aside while making the batter.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, cream together the ¼ pound butter and the 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and the reserved orange zest. Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each has gone in. Stir in the dry ingredients and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the dry.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat the whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites into the batter in two batches. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is well browned and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, Place a serving plate upside-down over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate.

Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at Contact him at

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