Sunday, December 12, 2004


Have you ever bought a couple of extra bags of cranberries at Thanksgiving, thinking that they were on sale, would freeze well, and you'd surely use them sometime in the next few months? And have you ever gone through your freezer early the following November, and discovered those same bags of cranberries, languishing against the back wall, coldly reproaching you for leaving them for so long?

It is rare that I have done the first of these without also having done the second, but not this year! Today, I decided that I would turn those cranberries into some sort of sweet preserved goodness. Did I really need to add to the 6 or 7 dozen jars of jam, preserves, sauce and chutney already in the cellar? Probably not, as I have plenty for these holidays and beyond, and I will probably replenish the stock with marmalades after the first of the year. But when I'm in the mood for preserving, need is not a word in my vocabulary.

So, what to do with the cranberries? While I was tempted by the recipe for paradise jelly, I did not have that much time to spend. I was looking for a recipe that would come together in little more than the time required for traditional cranberry sauce. I pulled out Mary Anne Dragan's Well Preserved: Pickles, Relishes, Jams and Chutneys for the New Cook. This is the book that helped my preserving gene, inherited from my paternal grandmother, to finally express itself. And, despite the title, it is not only a book for new cooks. The recipes are wonderful, and unusual, and I expect that I'll still be making some of them when I am a very old cook. Turning to cranberries in the index, I found recipes for cranberry apple jelly, cranberry butter, cranberry ketchup, cranberry relish, and (what's this?) Cranberry, Rum and Raisin Conserve.

What is a conserve? My friend Nina asked that question today. Until I read Ms. Dragan's book, I did not know. A conserve is a jam made from two or more fruits, one of which is often citrus, that is gussied up by adding nuts, dried fruits and alcohol.

The ingredients listed for Cranberry, Rum and Raisin Conserve were cranberries, oranges and orange juice, brown sugar, raisins, Brazil nuts and dark rum. I had the cranberries, citrus products and sugar. However...

I did not have enough raisins, but I did have a bag of frozen semi-dried cherries. (In July, I pitted the last of the local cherries and put them on a baking sheet, covered with wax paper, in the freezer in our basement. And I forgot them. By the time I rediscovered them, a couple of months later, they had not only frozen, but partially dried. I popped one in my mouth. Cold, chewy, and bursting with sweet cherry goodness. I transferred them to a freezer bag.) I like cherries better than raisins anyway.

I did not have Brazil nuts. (I never have Brazil nuts, as I do not like Brazil nuts. I do not understand people who like Brazil nuts, or perhaps I should say that I do not understand their fondness for Brazil nuts.) I love almonds, and am particularly fond of them with both oranges and cherries. I had slivered almonds.

My bottle of good, dark rum is at the office. (Eggnog, people, it's for eggnog, which we'll be having tomorrow at our staff meeting! I do not drink rum and diet Coke when I am alone in the office. Really, I do not.) However, I had the right amount of orange liqueur at home, and thought it would work well with the cherries and almonds.

So, the revised ingredients for the conserve were cranberries, oranges and juice, brown sugar, semi-dried cherries, almonds and orange liqueur.

The recipe wasn't much more difficult to make than the cranberry sauce recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag. After the oranges (with peel on) were finely chopped, the fruits, juice and sugar went into a pot to simmer. There was plenty of time during the simmering for toasting the slivered almonds (a few minutes in a 350 degree oven). When the fruit mixture was the consistency of... can you guess?... cranberry sauce, the almonds and liqueur joined the mix for a final minute of cooking.

After ladling the conserve into jars, and sending them off for 10 minutes in very hot water, I turned my attention to the extra 1/4 cup or so of conserve that would not fit into a jar. And, oh, what joy! The bits of orange peel had partially candied during the simmering, much as they do in marmalade. The cherries were plumped with orange juice; their soft sweetness contrasted wonderfully with the almonds' crunch. And the orange liqueur added a zing to what was still, at heart, cranberry sauce... but cranberry sauce dressed in satin and pearls, out for a night of dancing.

I don't know what the best partner will be for this conserve. However, my extra bags of cranberries will never end up as frozen wallflowers again.