I was seven years old when I first cooked with fresh cranberries. My mom had gone to a library sale and brought home a pair of books called Cranberry Thanksgiving and Cranberry Christmas. While I wasn’t particularly interested in the stories inside the books, I was intrigued by the recipes printed on the back.
After much begging, my parents relented and helped me bake a loaf of cranberry bread. I loved the way the tart berries popped in the tender, slightly sweet bread. Since then, cranberries have had a firm place in my top 10 favorite ingredients, and I’m determined to show that they’re good for a whole lot more than jelly and juice.
I’m always looking for ways to use fresh cranberries. I stir them into baked goods, add them to braises, scatter them over roasting vegetables, and even pickle them for cheese platters and cocktails. They give a fatty braised pork butt a tangy, fruity counterpoint. The combination of roasted butternut squash and cranberries makes for a sweet/tart side dish. And the combination of berries, sugar, vinegar and spices is wonderfully electric on the tongue.
Braised Pork Butt with Cranberries and Leeks
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove pork butt from fridge and let it come to room temperature. Pat away any moisture with paper towels and salt both sides of the meat generously.
- Prepare the leeks by cutting off the green tops and the root ends. Slice them in half lengthwise and wash off any gritty soil. Chop the leeks into narrow half moons (three leeks should yield approximately 3 cups).
- Place a four-quart or larger Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then, add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt, cooking until they begin to soften and brown.
- Using a spatula, scrape the leeks to the side of the pan. Turn the heat to high. Pat any remaining moisture from the meat and place it in the pan. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until that side has browned. Flip the meat and repeat until it is uniformly seared (take care to tend to the leeks so they don’t burn).
- Arrange the leeks on top of the pork. Add cranberries and stock. Place a tight-fitting lid on the pot and place it in the preheated oven.
- Let the pork cook for 3 to 4 hours, until it’s meltingly tender. Shred the meat and serve with mashed squash or sweet potatoes and braised kale.
Makes 3 pints
- Prepare a boiling water bath and three pint jars. Place lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Wash cranberries and pick out any stems or bad berries.
- Combine vinegar and sugar in a medium saucepan to create the brine. Bring to a boil. Add cinnamon sticks to the brine.
- Place allspice berries, whole cloves, black peppercorns and juniper berries in a spice bag or tie them up in cheesecloth. Add them to the brine.
- Once the brine is boiling vigorously, add the cranberries. Stir to combine and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cranberries begin to pop and the brine has returned to a rolling boil.
- Remove pot from heat, and pull out the spice bag and cinnamon sticks. Break cinnamon sticks in half and set aside.
- Using a slotted spoon, ladle cranberries into prepared jars. Cover berries with brine,* leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Place a cinnamon stick segment into each jar.
- Wipe jar rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
- Remove jars from canner and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and check seals. Any unsealed jars should be kept in the refrigerator.
- Let jars sit for at least 24 hours before eating to allow the flavors to settle.
*Save any leftover brine. It’s essentially a fruit shrub and is delicious mixed with sparkling water.
Oven Roasted Butternut Squash and Cranberries
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Wash butternut squash and cut it into quarters. Scrape out the seeds. Arrange squash on a baking sheet and sprinkle cranberries over the squash quarters. Drizzle oil over the berries and squash, and using your hands rub it in so it’s well distributed. Season with salt and place on your oven’s top rack.
- Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the squash is fork tender and the cranberries juicy and shrunken. Using a spoon, scrape the butternut flesh out of its peel. Combine roasted cranberries and tender squash in a large bowl. Add butter. Using a fork, stir everything into a chunky mash. Salt to taste.