Have Cranberry sauce, will travel

Thanksgiving hasn’t been at our house for a few years since we changed the family holiday rotation. I do miss it, but then again, I don’t have to do it … a blessing all by itself.

But when it comes to making the cranberry sauce, that easy task is always on my

“Take to Massachusetts” to-do list. If I don’t create the cranberry sauce, we don’t have it.

My daughter doesn’t enjoy it, I think mostly because her father didn’t eat it. My late husband grew up in Rochester, and I guess cranberries flunked the local cuisine trials.

As a result of this gastronomic felony, my grandchildren don’t eat cranberry sauce either, because their mother doesn’t serve it. However, my son-in-law Ian is a fan, and I can count on him. He’s a Brit, an adventurous eater, and a first-class stacker of complementary foods on the back of his fork. Each big bite is a work of art, and I can see the tangy red sauce nuzzling the turkey while hanging on to the Brussels sprouts. I love that boy.

I honestly don’t know how I allowed this travesty within my own family. I never made turkey or even chicken without a dish of the zippy red stuff. It was always passed around the table, and back to me – with no takers. When I insisted the children try it, they put a quarter teaspoon on the tip of their tongue, grimaced, and made disgusting noises. Naturally, their adult father had no part of the taste test.

My daughter, however, is a wise mother. She insists her children take five bites of a new dish before declaring it inedible. I have a funny feeling that cranberries have not been a subject of her taste tests.

Growing up, the best cranberry sauce was always homemade. But if forced to eat the jellied stuff that comes in that little white Ocean Spray can, it was better than no cranberry sauce at all.

I mean, the turkey and cranberry relationship is a classic combination, like peanut butter and jelly, ham and eggs, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

I should have told my children that the combo is biblical law. And I know God is on the side of this food match made in heaven. Otherwise, why would he have these tangy berries?

If the turkey/cranberry commandment is not in the bible, then it most certainly was enacted into law by the Pilgrims when they arrived here. The Peace Treaty signed between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives that first Thanksgiving, was basically a mutual agreement for protection from the rival Narragansett tribe. The Pilgrims arrived with their muskets. The Wampanoags donated the turkeys and the cranberries. A done deal.

I grew up knowing all this local folklore from Plymouth, Massachusetts, where cranberries are sacred and Ocean Spray is king.

Many parts of the Massachusetts South Shore and Cape Cod are bog lands. Cranberry bogs are soft and peaty, chock-a-block with cranberry bushes. The berries we see in the store every holiday season are picked by machine – what they call “dry harvested.”

The “wet harvest” is what we see on television and in magazine photos – ponds brimming with floating red berries. The bogs are flooded in the autumn and the weight of the water pulls the ripe berries off the bushes. Then shazam! A gazillion of ’em pop up to the surface, awaiting transformation to Cranraspberry juice.

When I was a teenager, Ocean Spray billboards all over the South Shore portrayed a motherly woman holding her finger up to her lips. She commanded “Sshhhh. Millions of cranberries are sleeping all around you.” And so, I was always very respectful but wanted to know more.

Ocean Spray is a label, but not a company in the classic sense. It’s a cooperative of 700 cranberry farmers who sell their harvest to the processor. I buy only Ocean Spray. It’s a pure loyalty thing.

It’s the same reason that I buy only Heinz ketchup, because I live in Pennsylvania, and Welch’s jams and jellies from nearby Westfield and Northeast, Pa.

I don’t know if brand loyalty is alive and well today, or if low price dictates everything now. For me, it started with Ocean Spray cranberries and is all wrapped up with taste, history, and regional pride.

This afternoon, if somebody passes you “the red stuff” — and it’s not usually your thing — slap a little bit o’cranberry on a bite of turkey and taste them together. You might be surprised to find harmony in your mouth — the same notes that brought the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags a little happiness that first Thanksgiving.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren, Pa., with her husband, Dear Richard, and Finian, their furball Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.


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