On a sunny day each September, I head out in my canoe across the waters of a local bog and park by a cranberry patch. I get out and walk carefully across the spongy mass of peat, bending down to pluck the firm, round berries from the bushes where they grow. When Mother was alive, she was my partner in this annual expedition; now, I share the experience with close friends. It generally takes me a couple of hours to get the gallon or so that I store in the freezer for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I boil most of the berries in maple syrup to make sauce to accompany holiday turkeys, but I bake some in scones, pie, or crisp. To me, the wild cranberries have a spicier, more complex taste than the cultivated variety available in grocery stores, but commercial cranberries nonetheless make a very tasty sauce.
Take 1 1/4 cup maple syrup (I prefer what used to be known as Grade B, but is now known as Grade A / Dark Robust Taste; it’s got the earthiest, richest maple flavor) and add 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons water. Bring the liquid to boil in a medium saucepan. Add 3 cups (one standard grocery store package) cranberries (whole berries, fresh or unthawed frozen) and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally. Check at ten-minute intervals and remove from heat when desired thickness is achieved (bearing in mind that there will be additional thickening as the sauce cools—so remove it from the heat while it’s still a bit thinner than the final consistency you want). When the sauce is cool enough to taste, check it to see if you want to add any additional syrup; if so, you may need to boil it down again because of the added liquid. Pour the sauce into a bowl, cover and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until an hour or so before serving time. And be sure to leave the lid off the pot while you’re boiling so the steam can escape. Back when Mother and I started making our own cranberry sauce, we once left the lid on the pot; it took us a couple of hours to figure out why the sauce didn’t seem to be getting any thicker!
(Photo: Wild cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) grow in bogs in the Moosehead Lake region.)