Cranberries, Dressings & Pies…The Holidays are Here!

I went to the grocery store the other day and they had already prepared big time for the upcoming holidays.  The shelves were piled high with four, sugar, cranberries, sweet potatoes and onions and turkeys were wrapped and waiting at the meat counter…all of the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner just waiting to be sold.  At the check out counter, the magazines all called out for attention, claiming that they had a new way of making every traditional dish that you could possibly think of.  As for our family, Thanksgiving is one holiday that is hard to fool around with.  Now Christmas is a whole other story, but we’re old-fashioned stalwarts on Turkey day.  Everyone has their favorite dish and it has to be made, “just so.”  There’s just no getting around it.

I thought that this would be a good time to share some of our favorite, family recipes with my readers.  Nothing fancy or fussy, but it’s all good.

The cranberries are the first dish that we make.  They can be made a couple of days ahead of time and I think that they actually get a little better with age.  Our recipe for cranberry relish is simple and easy to prepare.

No Fuss Cranberry Relish

1 pound package of fresh cranberries

3 Cups of sugar

2 Cups of water

1 Tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate

1 small lime

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

dash of cloves

Wash the cranberries and remove any debris.  Pour the cranberries, sugar and water into a medium size pan and bring to a boil.  The berries will start to burst and pop as they are heated.  Cook the mixture for about 3 minutes more after the popping starts, stirring constantly, then remove from heat.  Add the tablespoon of orange juice concentrate and the juice from the lime.  Season with the cinnamon and cloves.  Cool completely, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When I first started doing the Thanksgiving dinner I made my dressing/stuffing using Mrs. Cubbisons boxed dressing off of the supermarket shelf.  It wasn’t bad and it was certainly a breeze to whip up.  But now, I go to the extra effort of making my own sourdough bread for the stuffing.  I bake it about a week ahead of time, rip it up into bite size pieces, then put it into the freezer until Turkey day.  Other than the bread and the usual chopped parsley, onions and celery, we have two other special ingredients for our dressing: cooked country sausage and chopped water chestnuts.  We also like to throw in some chopped mushrooms occasionally, but that’s not mandatory.  Here’s the recipe for the dressing.  I won’t go into the bread baking part.  You can either make your own bread, or buy some at the store.

Traditional Dressing with Sausage and Water Chestnuts

1 Pound of country seasoned, bulk, ground pork sausage

1 Cup chopped onion

2 Cups chopped celery

1/2 Cup butter, melted

12 Cups of white bread, preferably sourdough, torn into pieces

2 teaspoons of salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground sage, or 1 Tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

1 can of sliced water chestnuts, drained and roughly chopped

1 Cup Chicken, Turkey, or Vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Break up the sausage into bite-sized pieces and cook in a skillet until browned.  Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a cloth.  Add the butter, onions, celery, and seasonings to the pan.  Cook the mixture until onions and celery are soft.  Remove from heat.  Place the torn pieces of bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 350 degrees until they start to brown.  Allow to cool.  Place bread in a large mixing bowl and add the onion/celery/butter mixture to the bread.  Stir in the sausage and water chestnuts.  Pour in the broth and lightly toss mixture just until the bread is moistened.  Pour mixture into a large casserole dish, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the top is very lightly browned. Serve warm.

We always make two kinds of pies on this holiday, apple and pumpkin.  Sometimes we’ll mess around with the standard recipes for these, but we always use the same pie crust recipe.

Perfect Pie Crust

 This recipe makes a very light and flaky crust. It was passed down to me by my grandmother and I’ve never found a better method. This recipe is supposed to be enough to make a double crust pie, but I think that pie pans were smaller back then, so I usually double the recipe and then have leftovers for a morning tart, or turnovers.

2 Cups all purpose white flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 Cup Crisco Vegetable shortening
4-6 Tablespoons ice water

Sift the flour with salt in a large bowl. Measure the shortening using a large measuring cup filled with one cup of water. Add the shortening to the measuring cup until the water reaches the 1 3/4 mark. (Make sure that the shortening is completely submerged in the water.) Remove the shortening from the water and add it to the bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour using two knives, one in each hand, cutting them against each other like scissors. You can also use a pastry cutter, but whatever you do, DON’T use a food processor for this step. A food processor will quickly over process the dough and make it like cardboard.  Cut the dough mixture until it is made up of mostly, very, small pieces. A few pea-sized pieces are OK. Add the ice water to the bowl, one tablespoon at a time, while tossing the dough with the knives. Stop adding water when the dough just barely holds its shape. Try hard not to overwork the dough. The dough will still look pretty crumbly. (Not like those stiff slabs of dough you see on the TV cooking shows.  Yuck!) Too much water will also make the dough tough, so be careful with this part and don’t add too much.

Dump the dough out on to a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap it up tightly are refrigerate for at least an hour. When you are ready to roll it out, lay out a piece of parchment paper, or plastic wrap on your rolling surface and dust it with flour. Have another piece of paper, or wrap ready to place on top of the dough. Place half the dough on the paper, dust with a little more flour and put the other piece of paper on top of the dough. (Put the other half of the dough back in the refrigerator to keep chilled.) Roll out the dough to desired thickness, using a light touch. Again, you want to be careful not to overwork the dough. The should be somewhat delicate, fragile and probably be a little difficult to work with, but that’s OK. Carefully remove the top piece of paper and flip the dough into a pie pan. Remove the bottom piece of paper from the dough. Fill with whatever filling you’re using. Repeat the roll out steps for the top crust. You don’t have to brush the top with anything, but my grandmother always brushed hers with a little milk and sprinkled it with sugar.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

~ C


A Beautiful Thanksgiving In the Mendocino Mountains

It’s Thanksgiving morning and most of the work has already been done.  I now have time to sit down with my coffee and reflect on what Thanksgiving is to me and my family.  I read an article this morning about how the first Thanksgiving really wasn’t what we imagined it to be, with everyone peacefully sitting down to a glorious meal.  That is was actually about kidnapping American natives and trying to sell them off in Europe, political posturing, distrust and hatred.  Hummm…not my idea of a wonderful holiday experience.

I don’t really care what the first Thanksgiving was about, I care more of what it is about to me, personally, right now.  For me, it is about being grateful for all of the beauty of life around me.  It’s giving thanks for our good fortunes, our loved ones, the creatures, both tame and wild, that share our space and for the huge bounty of food that comes our way each harvest season. I’m so glad to be alive and to witness it all.

So, in celebration of giving thanks, we are preparing a feast.  This year, we are making our first, vegan, Thanksgiving meal.  Much of the food has come from our garden and the forest.  I know that there are probably a couple of our guests that wonder where the turkey is and maybe even miss it.  But as for the rest of us, we couldn’t be happier with the plant-based fare.  We have some delicious things on the menu, starting out with a retro, almond “cheezy” ball that has been rolled in toasted almonds and green onions, homemade cider and beer and a bottle of Frey Vineyard’s local, organic, Petite Sirah.  Our dinner courses include wild mushroom and Shitaki, “purses,” roasted potatoes and cauliflower whipped, with deep-roasted vegetable gravy,  homemade sourdough rolls, spiced cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts, stuffing, sweet potato and kale casserole with nogada sauce, salad with shaved persimmons and pumpkin pie with coconut cream…oh…and let’s not forget, Roederer Estate’s  sparkling BRUT wine. (Another local winery, from here, in the Anderson Valley.)

I promise to have all of these recipes available soon.  I was so busy cooking and preparing in the kitchen yesterday, I just didn’t have time to take notes and pictures. I’ll get them up there, so you can make them for one of the other, upcoming holidays.  I’m off to start of the stove again and get down Gramma’s china.  In closing, I ask that you please, have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving.

~ C,

An Old Woman’s Garden