Cranberries, along with Concord grapes and blueberries, are fruits uniquely native to North America. Native Americans harvested the tart red berries in what is now Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon, where they ate them fresh and used them in cooking and baking, as well as in dyes and poultices. Early settlers to North America began cultivating cranberries as well, and their production continues to be an important part of the culture and economy in the regions in which they grow.
In 1983, Mary Hufford and a team of other folklorists worked on a American Folklife Center (AFC) project which documented the "interplay of natural and cultural resources in the agricultural regions, woodlands, and wetlands," in the Pinelands of Southern New Jersey. Their fieldwork focused particularly on the laborlore, foodways, and traditional culture surrounding the area's cranberry production in the area-- one of the last places to harvest the berries by hand.
As part of that project, the AFC produced the booklet Cranberries (pictured in the top photo), including photos, background information, and recipes collected from consultants in the area. The recipes, shared by women home cooks, feature dishes ranging from Cranberry-Mincemeat Sweet Sour Bread to Cranberry Wine. This Thanksgiving, I adapted Helen Zimmer's recipe for Cranberry Pie, adding just a little zest and spice. I searched the AFC archive to see if I could find out a little more about Ms. Zimmer-- I didn't turn up much (though did come across this related song), but I'd say this pie enough is quite a thing to be known for.
Adapted from Helen Zimmer via Cranberries: Pinelands Folklife Project
Nothing in the House pie crust
1 quart cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup (you can also use molasses, sorghum, or any other sweet syrup)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
Turbinado sugar, for dusting
1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. After chilling the dough for at least 1 hour, roll out half of the crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. Place pan and unrolled crust back into the fridge while you prepare the filling.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together cranberries and maple syrup and set aside. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together sugar, cornstarch, and orange zest, then add it to the cranberry mixture. Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell.
3. Remove the remaining crust from the fridge and roll it out on a clean, floured surface. Cut any crust designs desired. Dot cranberry filling with butter, then place top crust on top, fluting the edges decoratively.
4. Brush crust with egg wash and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Place pie on a baking sheet, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling. Let cool and enjoy just warm with a dollop of maple whipped cream.
Cranberry Chess Pie
Cranberry Goat Cheese Tart with Almond Shortbread Crust
Cranberry Hand Pies
Cranberry Sage Pie