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Cranberry Thanksgiving: Storybook cranberry bread makes a sweet tradition

By , Columbian staff writer
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This cranberry bread is inspired by a decades-old recipe from a childhood book.
This cranberry bread is inspired by a decades-old recipe from a childhood book. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When I was in first or second grade, my mother subscribed to a children’s book-a-month club, so every month for several years I got a new book in the mail. When I was about 10, I received “Cranberry Thanksgiving,” about a girl and her grandmother who live next to a cranberry bog on the New England coast. The grandmother is famous for her delicious cranberry bread but she refuses to divulge the recipe until she meets Mr. Horace, a charming, well-groomed gentleman from town whom she invites to Thanksgiving dinner at her house.

Her granddaughter, meanwhile, invites the smelly, clam-digging Mr. Whiskers. Grandma doesn’t care for his bushy face and untidy appearance and believes that Mr. Whiskers is probably out to steal her secret recipe. Can you guess the plot twist? Mr. Whiskers catches Mr. Horace in the act of filching the recipe from behind a loose brick in the fireplace. Mr. Whiskers is redeemed.

Everything ends with pumpkin pie and even the disgraced Mr. Horace gets a slice. The illustration on the last page shows Grandma flirtatiously taking the blushing Mr. Whiskers’ arm. The moral of the story is that just because someone smells fishy doesn’t mean he’s a bad catch and all’s well that ends with pie.

The best thing about the book was that the authors included a recipe for cranberry bread. It seemed easy enough that even a kid could make it and I was eager to try. Finally, I could contribute more to the Thanksgiving meal than just putting olives on my fingers! I’d take my place with our family’s matriarchs, each of whom had Thanksgiving specialties. My grandmother Esther brought candied sweet potatoes and apple, pecan and pumpkin pies. My grandmother Honor made cranberry Jell-O salad with pineapple cream cheese dressing and my mother made homemade cornbread stuffing with fragrant sage. My tradition would be cranberry bread for guests to nibble on while waiting for dinner (never mind that they were trying not to spoil their appetites).

Although it probably irritated the hot and harried women in the kitchen, they granted me counter space and time in the oven to bake my bread. Even at that age, I was futzing with the recipe and adding embellishments to make it truly my own. When I pulled the loaf from the oven and presented it to our guests, I beamed with the joy of my accomplishment and they all gamely ate a slice. I don’t know if it was actually any good but I loved it and I made it every year until I left for college.

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup butter

1 egg

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon orange zest

¾ cup orange juice

1 cup raisins or currants

2 cups chopped fresh cranberries

¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

My own daughter is now in college and she’s beyond the age of bedtime stories, so I recently boxed up all the children’s books gathering dust in her room, including all my old book-a-month books. One day I might have grandchildren to read to but in the meantime, a few books — including “Cranberry Thanksgiving” — still sit on my shelf to remind me that some things are never outgrown, like the pleasures of a good story or the taste of a beloved family recipe. So, without further ado, here is Grandma’s legendary recipe for cranberry bread, with a few of my own improvements.

Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda and ½ teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Cut in ¼ cup butter until mixture is crumbly. Add 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon grated orange peel and ¾ cup orange juice. Stir until mixture is just moistened then fold in 1 cup raisins or currants and 2 cups chopped fresh cranberries (about an 8-ounce bag of whole cranberries). The secret to this bread is the fresh cranberries, even though it will take you about 10 minutes to chop the berries by hand. Dried berries are fine if you’d prefer a sweeter bread but I really relish the tart zip of the fresh berries. If you like a nutty bread, add ¼ to ½ cup walnut or pecan pieces.

Spoon the batter, which will be quite thick, into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack, then cut into slices. It will be dense with fruit and slightly crumbly but it will hold together. Enjoy a slice with a pat of sweet cream butter. Have another slice. Go ahead — spoil your appetite.

Get Your Copy

To get your own copy of “Cranberry Thanksgiving” by Wende and Harry Devlin, which was last reprinted in 2012, hardcover editions are available from Vintage Books in Vancouver by calling 360-694-9519 or visiting vintage-books.net.

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