Cape Cod is certainly an eclectic treasure trove of gastronomic goodies -- oysters and clams and lobsters, of course, all in abundance and all at surprisingly low prices compared to landbound cities. But the bounty goes beyond the bay and ocean, right into bogs that are low and damp most of the year but sandy and dry during September and October when they are ideal for ripening cranberries.
According to a legend of Cape Cod's Wampanoag Indians, the first cranberry came from a spilled drop of blood from the giant Maushop. While the giant was saving the life of his sister, the old marsh woman Granny Squannit, the windblown drop landed on a cattail in a bog and became the first cranberry.
Although Cape Cod's cranberry industry has declined from its heyday in the last century, cranberries remain the largest export crop of the state. Cranberries from the Provincetown area were carried all over the world by old-time sailing ships, partly because they help prevent scurvy and partly because they can remain fresh for up to two years. Today the hybrid cranberries of the Cape travel worldwide, by plane rather than boat.
Traditionally, we associate cranberries with the holiday season, and we rarely see them much earlier than November, even though some early hybrids are harvested in July and August. In the 18th century, though, the Provincetown cranberry crop was protected from early picking, and a 1773 Provincetown law read: "Any person . . . found getting cranberys before ye twentyeth of September exceeding one quart should be liable to pay one dollar and have the berys taken away."
Today, there is no reason to associate cranberries only with the holidays, or to think just of cranberry sauce or cranberry and orange relish. Here are recipes for Cranberry Pake (a pie/cake) and a cooked Cranberry and Raspberry Compote that can be used either atop ice cream or to accompany roasted turkey, chicken, duck or venison. CRANBERRY PAKE (6 to 8 servings)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
10 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water
2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over to remove stems and badly bruised berries, and rinsed lightly under running cold water
1/2 cup walnuts or pecan pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
3 tablespoons orange or hazelnut liqueur (optional)
2 large eggs
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and 1/4 cup sugar in a mixing bowl and stir together. Add the 6 tablespoons butter, broken into small pieces, and quickly crumble between your fingers or with two forks to form a very coarse, lumpy meal. Add three tablespoons of the water, sprinkling it over the flour and begin to gather together into a ball. Add the last tablespoon, or a little more water if necessary to make a ball of dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes wrapped in plastic film.
Roll out the dough and line a 10-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges decoratively with the overhanging and excess dough. In a mixing bowl, combine cranberries, 1/2 cup sugar, nuts, grated zests and liquor, if using, and toss well. Pour into the pie crust and refrigerate while preparing the final batter.
Cream the 4 remaining tablespoons butter and remaining cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add remaining cup flour, mix thoroughly, and pour over the cranberries in the crust.
Bake for 60 minutes at 360 degrees. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. CRANBERRY AND RASPBERRY COMPOTE (6 servings)
Serve this two-berry compote warm atop vanilla ice cream or apple pie, or at room temperature as a garnish for poultry or game, or cold with curried dishes.
12 to 16 ounce package fresh cranberries, picked over to remove stems and badly bruised berries, and rinsed lightly under cold water
2 10 ounce-packages sweetened frozen raspberries, defrosted
1/2 cup sugar (add only if compote is to be used as a dessert topping)
In a large pot, combine the cranberries with the raspberries and the juice (and the sugar if using) and slowly bring to a boil in a large deep saucepan. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring very frequently, partially covered, until the compote thickens and the excess liquid has evaporated. Keep the pot partially covered or draped loosely with foil to prevent splattering the whole kitchen with cranberry juice.