Friday, November 6, 2009

Rethinking Cranberries

My mom had a run-in with cranberry sauce soon after she moved to the states.

It was 1963 and the administration at St. Alexis Hospital had invited all the foreign residents to spend Thanksgiving with a host family. At the time, my parent's social circle included recent immigrants from India, Mexico, and South America. Eager to branch out, my mom convinced my father to accept the invitation. The staff provided my parents with the name and address of an American family living in Cleveland. And like Marco Polo, my parents set off to discover the mysteries of their new world.

I like to picture them stepping out of their black VW bug. My mom in a carefully pressed silk sari; her shoulder-length hair tucked into a plump bun. My father in a dark suit with the buttons discreetly fastened. When they reached the door, they were welcomed by a middle aged Caucasian couple, two children, and a grandmotherly figure who all turned out to be gracious hosts. Other details about the family - their names, hair color, clothing - have faded with time. Even now, my mom vividly remembers the meal.

Soon after they sat down to eat, the grandmother commented on my mom's slender build.

"You're too skinny. You need to eat more!"

She insisted that my mom be given an extra large helping of turkey. Before handing my mom her plate, the woman of the house asked whether she wanted cranberry sauce. From across the table, it reminded my mom of the savory pickle she ordered from
ABC Trading Company (Canal Street, New York, New York) along with cumin, cardamom, coriander and other pantry staples. She nodded politely. Feeling part of the inner circle at last, my mom happily bit into a forkful of turkey smothered in the burgundy-colored sauce. The turkey paled in taste compared to the spice-laden meat she was accustomed to and the sauce was sweet! It was an incomprehensible pairing. She still recalls how she had to fight the nausea that begun bubbling up her throat. Sadly, when she looked down, there was a huge chunk of turkey smothered with cranberry sauce resting on her plate.The following year, my parents celebrated Thanksgiving with the Mennons who had also immigrated from Kerala. Mr. Mennon's employer had offered him a turkey and my mom had insisted that he accept it. She and Mrs. Mennon basted and roasted it under the wing of Good Housekeeping Cookbook (which still has a hallowed place in my mom's kitchen.)

The meal did not include cranberries.
I remember my mom serving canned cranberry sauce off and on at Thanksgiving. Perhaps she felt obligated to include it the longer she lived in the states. Everyone ignored it. After eatingLinkKerala dishes day in and day out, we were wary to let sweet and savory flavors mingle. I have never bothered to include cranberries at the holiday meals I've hosted. But lately I begun itching to make room for the garnet colored fruit on the table. This year a cranberry walnut upside down cake from Gourmet will grace the table.TIPS:

- I love the warm taste of cinnamon and add 1/2 teaspoon to the dry ingredients when preparing this cake.
- It's best to invert this cake directly onto the serving dish because it has a delicate crumb, despite its rustic appearance. If you plan to move it more than once, add a tiny layer of oil to the surface of the wire rack or dish before you lay it down.

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