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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Papa's Cranberry Relish

When I was a kid, my dad cooked a few things on special occasions.  The things he made were extra special for being done so rarely.  We'd have candied popcorn on a snowy evening.  He'd make peanut brittle for Christmas.  On very rare occasions we'd get some of his fudge.  It was like a chemistry lab with thermometers and boiling points and stirring just so.  What a treat.

The thing he made most often was cranberry relish.   We had it at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  His recipe is not a jello mold.  Nor is it a cooked chutney.  It is fresh cranberry relish.  There is nothing that tastes more like the holidays to me than that. 

He would get out the grinder.  When we were small, I believe he used a meat grinder of the sort that clamps on to the table top.  I don't really picture that.  By the late  sixties or early seventies he got an electric grinder or sausage maker.  To this day, it only ever gets used to make cranberry relish. 

As a kid it was fascinating to watch as the the berries went in the top and came out all chopped up.  It was amazing to see celery go into the mix.  Who would think that celery would add anything but yuck to a sweet tart treat like cranberry relish.  (For the record, once I started making it on my own, I tried it without the celery.  While you can't actually taste the celery in the mix it makes all the difference between meh and wow.) 

Now my dad was pretty clever and he made it seem that running the grinder was a job that only some one of superior talent, care and skill could do.  Not anyone would be able to push those berries down the tube and hear that satisfying pop.  You had to work up to it.  First you had to learn to sort the berries.  They need to be washed.  Then you need to pull out the good berries and leave behind the stems and mushy ones.  If you were lucky, you got to put the last few berries in the machine.  Pop! 

Of course, in pretty short order, one graduated to master relish maker.  After a few sessions of supervising, dad stopped making the relish all together.  He became the taster and I became the relish maker.  I told you my dad was a clever guy!  Now he did step in to make relish after I left home and he taught Spud 2 how to make it when he was small.  Spud 2 has become the relish maker in our house.  We use the grinder attachment for the Kitchenaid mixer.  But I know exactly where the electric grinder is on the shelf at mom's house when we visit at the holidays!

A big part of making cranberry relish is the tasting.  Cranberry relish varies with the type of apple, the sweetness of the oranges and the berries.  You absolutely have to taste it as you add the sugar.  You cannot simply add 1 cup sugar and be done.  You could end up with something so sour you can't talk or so sweet your teeth hurt.  You must taste, add and taste again.  It is part of the ritual.  But then rituals evolve and persist for good reason.  The very last thing to go into the mix is chopped walnuts. 
Dad loved it with walnuts.  The spuds, not so much.  It is up to you whether you add them in or not.  But whatever you do, don't run them through the grinder with the rest.  Chop them separately and add them just before serving.

1 package fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
1 orange cut up  with the peel on
1 orange peeled (plus about half of the zest)
1 1/2 stalks celery chopped
1 large sweet crispy apple chopped (such as gala)

Put all ingredients through a food grinder (food processor would likely work but I've never done it that way).  Stir in sugar to taste.  Depending upon the tartness of the apples, cranberries and orange you may need 3/4 - 1 1/2 cup sugar.  Add a little at a time and taste.

Refrigerate.  You may stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts just before serving it you like. 
Recipe can be doubled. 

*Crossposted at Recipes and Prayers.

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