Throughout my childhood, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving brought about great anticipation. First there would be several days off from school, including the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend which, in The Coal Region, is a celebration in its own right; it was, at that time, the first day of rifle season for antlered deer (it’s a Pennsylvania thing…).
The day after Thanksgiving heralded the busiest shopping day of the year. Sales galore were announced in the local newspaper and “downtown” retail shops in towns across the region filled their windows with holiday decorations — some with elaborate and animated displays, ushering in the official start of the Christmas season.. Stores stocked their toy departments, and Santa made his first appearance of the holiday season often arriving on the top of fire apparatus courtesy of the local “hosey” (fire company). House porches and eaves draped with festive strings of white and multi-colored strands of light flickered on for the first time and many would remain lit each evening through January 7th.
And of course there was the Thanksgiving Day dinner that featured a menu that varied very little across the years but always included several family favorite foods that made an appearance only on the holiday table in our home. The aromas of the holiday feast filled the air throughout the morning. Our home had no formal dining room set up, so the kitchen was always the hub for any celebration.
in my youngest years, my dad’s siblings, my mom’s sister, and their families would crowd around a folding table set up in the middle of our cramped kitchen surrounded by folding metal chairs borrowed from the local volunteer fire company. Mom would cover the long table with a white tablecloth brought out only on holidays and set the table with :the good china”
As dinner guests would begin to arrive, I would hover in the corner of the kitchen with Mom and Nana rather than join the group in “the parlor” and living room being that I was much more interested in the treats that would soon be on the table than the kisses and cheek pinches received from aunts and uncles that I saw weekly throughout the year.
My pleas of, “Is it ready yet?” were met with the ambiguous “Not yet”, an answer i found totally unacceptable but was powerless to change. So I learned to watch for signs. When the log of jellied cranberry sauce, nestled on its own plate, having been gently nudged whole from the can and cut into serving slices, appeared on the table, the rest was soon to follow.
From my perch in the corner, the dish of cranberry sauce glowed like a beacon in the night; a ruby Island set upon an ocean of white linen table cloth. Mom’s coleslaw followed, the call of “Dinner!” went out, and the guests started to gather at the table. The hot dishes were quick to follow and the celebration began.
And so it went for several generations and several decades. As life goes, the family nucleus dwindled, My parents passed away and holiday dinners were dramatically down-sized when it became just my husband and myself at the table. But the one thing that never changed was I served the can of jellied cranberry sauce cut in rounds for every holiday dinner — that is until the year my husband came home and announced that the local supermarket was out of canned cranberry sauce but not to worry, he brought some bags of fresh cranberries sure that I “could do something with them”.
Faced with fresh cranberries, my initial inclination was to go the route of a ground up fresh cranberry and orange relish but that was not something James enjoyed. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I seemed to remember seeing a cranberry chutney recipe written in my mom’s handwriting that I had come across awhile back tucked in with some unrelated papers. Thinking at the time that I should file it properly, I failed to do so.
It now evaded me as to where I saw the recipe but I was determined to find it. I started to search in the usual places and had no luck. As Thanksgiving Day drew closer, I had given up on the idea when I went to get something from our antique desk and noticed a paper that seem to be out of place protruding from a cubby hole . The second I picked it up and un-folded it I realized I had found the chutney recipe. it was still a couple days before Thanksgiving, so I set about making a batch
My late husband James, having grown up with the jellied cranberry log, was a bit hesitant to try a cranberry chutney yet once he did he was a fan for life. I made this chutney for years and have even given it as holiday gifts to friends and family. I no longer used the canned cranberry log for dinners after making this chutney for the first time, but never see a can of jellied cranberry sauce without it bringing back memories of days gone by.
This Thanksgiving, as I face the first one completely alone in my 61 years on this earth, there will be no chutney, no turkey dinner, no table filled with “the good china”.. What there will be is a can of jellied cranberry sauce that I bought with my last grocery order. I will open it, I will nudge it from the can, and I will slice it. And then I will close my eyes and I will reach out for the memories of those I loved so dearly that help sustain me through these difficult days. I am blessed to have them — and for that I am eternally grateful.
I often bought fresh cranberries when they were in season at the supermarket and froze them for future use because I would make a batch of this cranberry chutney throughout the year. We enjoyed it with turkey, chicken, pork roast or chops, ham, and even meatloaf. It is great to make ahead and is preferred to do so which allows the flavors to develop.
Fresh Cranberry ChutneyCourse: side disjesCuisine: GeneralDifficulty: Easy
1 pound fresh cranberries
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cups chopped peeled apples
1/2 cup chopped peeled pears
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
- in large pot, bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minute, stirring occasionally. Store, covered, in refrigerator. Will keep for several weeks.