Sunday, November 1, 2009
A GIFT FROM THE FIRST THANKSGIVING
Two American originals – cranberries and maple syrup – combine to make this double - crust pie a reminder of the first Thanksgiving. Recipe Below.
The story is still told among descendants of the Algonquin People of a young boy who aspired to become a holy man – a Shaman. He set for himself a spiritual quest to prove himself in the eyes of the Great Creator. He decided to bury himself partially in the deep mud of a swamp, and there to concentrate his mind and being solely on the desire of his heart. Although it was still fall, there occurred an unexpected early freeze, and he found himself frozen fast in place there in the wilderness of a northern bog. It is said that he would have died of starvation had not a miracle come, in the shape of a strange white dove, carrying something in its beak. From the sky, a red berry was dropped so that the lad could reach it. There followed many flights of the beautiful white bird, bringing berry after berry, until his friends were able to find and rescue the boy from the swamp.
It is thought that in these mercy flights, the dove must have accidentally dropped some of the magic berries, because the following spring, new and never-seen-before plants began to establish themselves in the swampy country which The People frequented in their canoes, producing increasingly generous harvests of the tart but wondrous berries. The fruit became an important ingredient in the pemmican which helped to insure food during the long winter months, and was the centerpiece of their harvest celebrations each fall.
And so when the newly arrived people with pale skins and blue eyes invited the Indians to a feast they held the year after their first arrival, Samoset and his friends introduced the Pilgrims to dishes made from the wild berries gleaned from the nearby ponds and swamps. The puddings and maple-flavored treats sparkling with the red fruit would become an annual reminder to the Pilgrims and their offspring, of that first enduring celebration.
The plant which produced the red berries was called Ibimi by the local Indians, but was renamed by the colonists who noted that when in the flowering stage, the waving blooms looked like the heads of the cranes who frequented the same waterways. And so they began calling them crane berries, a word which over the years was shortened to cranberries.
Today, cranberries are a major crop in several northern states, with Wisconsin and Massachusetts producing the lion’s share of the seven million barrels which will end up on holiday dinner tables across the country this year. They will be made into jellies, relishes, salads and fruit compotes in great variety, with a preponderance slipping out of cans bearing the Ocean Spray logo. At our southern Utah family Thanksgiving table, they will show up in a double-crusted baked pie, whose filling is based largely upon an old Algonquian recipe worth sharing.
Combine in a non-reactive saucepan: 3 cups fresh cranberries – 1 cup sugar – 1 cup maple syrup – 2 Tbs. flour – ½ cup boiling water – 1 cup currant raisins – 3 Tbs. grated orange peel – and a pinch of salt. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring until the berries begin to pop open. Stir in 2 Tbs. of butter before setting it aside to cool while preparing your favorite pie crust recipe for a two-crust pie. Set your oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie dish with the bottom crust and fill with the cranberry mixture. Cut the top crust into strips and lay a latticework over the top before crimping the edges and sprinkling some sugar crystals over all. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the crust is just lightly browned.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of all Native American myth-stories, but whenever asked about the origin of the North American cranberry, I prefer to go with the version that features a magical white dove.
Here the annual harvest is underway at a New Jersey cranberry farm. More than 40,000 acres of cranberry bogs are cultivated across six states.