Native Americans have been enjoying cranberries for centuries, as a source of red dye for rugs and clothing, a healing agent to treat wounds, and of course food. They sweetened cranberries with honey or maple syrup and cooked up a sauce similar to the one we enjoy during Thanksgiving time. Another interesting preparation, which served as more of a survival food, was pemmican—a combination of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and fat (Mmmmm...).
Settlers were quick to adopt the Native American uses for the fruit and by the beginning of the 18th century, cranberries were shipped and introduced to Europe. Many believe that the name “cranberry” comes from the early Dutch and German settlers who came up with the term “crane berry” to describe the plant’s flower that looked like the head and bill of a crane.
Cultivation in Massachusetts began in the early 1800s and really prospered due to favorable growing conditions: soil type, presence of sand, and a dormancy period during the winter. Interestingly, the cranberry vines can potentially survive indefinitely, and some of the vines used for production in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old! Back in the day, production was much slower as early growers would harvest the cranberries by hand. But innovative farmers came up with a technique known as wet harvesting, in which they flooded a cranberry bog with water, allowing the cranberries to float to the surface and be scooped up.
A note about my cranberry pie...
This recipe was inspired by an early 20th century traditional cranberry-raisin pie recipe I came across, however I did alter it quite a bit. I substituted the raisins for dried cranberries, creating a “double cranberry” effect. I also added a chopped up Cortland apple to be consistent with the New England theme, orange zest and cinnamon for spice, and a cornmeal double pie crust. The crust was especially delicious, slightly dense, yet flaky, with a subtle crunch from the cornmeal…a perfect pairing for the tart cranberry filling. I made the pie for a fall potluck and it was a huge hit. I can’t wait to recreate it again soon. After all, it does represent the unique flavors of the season, and as we all know, I am a sucker for anything seasonal.
Double Cranberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust
For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
6 to 9 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
12 ounces fresh cranberries
½ cup dried, unsweetened cranberries
1 large baking apple, peeled, cored and chopped into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the glaze
1 egg, lightly beaten
Good-quality vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, blend butter pieces into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-sized lumps. Drizzle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture and stir until incorporated. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together. Knead gently and form two equal-sized disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine fresh and dried cranberries, apple, orange juice, zest and sugar in a medium bowl; mix well. Sprinkle with flour and cinnamon and stir to combine.
Make the bottom crust: Remove one disk of dough from refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out into a 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. If necessary stretch, trim, or move small pieces around—the idea is to have an inch of overhanging dough.
Pour cranberry filling into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate.
Make the top crust: Roll the second disk of dough into a roughly 11x8-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into 8 strips with a sharp knife. Remove pie from refrigerator. Arrange 4 strips across pie, spacing evenly. Place remaining 4 strips in the other direction, weaving into a lattice pattern. Fold dough overhang to form a crust. (Once again, you may have to trim, stretch or move pieces around to make the pie look nice) Decoratively crimp using fingers or a fork. Brush top crust with egg. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until bubbly and browned. If crust begins to get too brown, cover it loosely with foil. Let pie cool to warm before serving. (I highly recommend eating it à la mode)