With all due respect to my Mom’s version of Gram’s stuffing, Auntie’s Rum Chiffon pie and Aunt Jane’s coffeecake, it was Aunt Ali’s cranberry mold that made Thanksgiving dinner exceptional.
The meal, shared at a table that eventually held more than 30 Forgiel aunts, uncles and cousins, along with Auntie and Gram, was certainly delicious. Gram’s stuffing was flavored with giblets and onion, the squash was fresh, the peas and pearl onions frozen, and the potatoes light, full of butter and cream. But even the best Thanksgiving meal can be brought down by a table whose celebration of cranberries extends no further than a can of jelly.
Aunt Ali, my godmother, chopped fresh cranberries, mixed them with earthy walnuts and suspended them in gelatin, set in a Bundt pan mold. The result was tart-sweet and fresh, a welcome break from the rich vegetables, starches and gravy-slathered turkey that crowded the other 95% of our heaped plates.
Every year I celebrate cranberries, sometimes cooked with port and orange zest, other years bright with baking spices, and last year with rich pork belly. This year, however, I was inspired by Renee Shields-Farr at Sapore Oil and Vinegar, who asked, “have you ever tasted a pink peppercorn?” I hadn’t.
Biting in, I first tasted a mix of pear and berries that was reminiscent of sugary breakfast cereal. Then came the peppery bite. So pears and berries it was. I added jelly, rather than pure sugar, to sweeten, and rosemary for balance and depth. It’s different, and it’s good.
As for the can of jelly, I’m sure it will still grace the table for Uncle John and my brother Alec. Thanksgiving, after all, is first and foremost a meal of family traditions.
Cranberry Pear Pink Peppercorn Compote
Makes about 2 cups compote
- 12 oz, about 3 cups cranberries
- 2 large Bosc pears cut in a 1/2” dice
- 1 cup tart jam like red currant or beach plum*
- 1 cup apple or pear cider
- 2 tbs chopped rosemary, separated
- 1 tbs pink peppercorns, crushed
- Lemon juice
*My favorite is Sapore’s Cranberry Port jam. If all you have at home is strawberry or raspberry, add a splash of port and a little extra lemon juice to balance the simple sweetness.
- Combine cranberries, pears, Cranberry Port jam and cider in a 2 quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Cook for 5 minutes until cranberry begin to pop and release liquid.
- Stir 1 tbs rosemary and pink peppercorns into the saucepan of fruit. Leave uncovered and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes until thickened.
- Stir in remaining tablespoon of chopped rosemary and season to taste with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
- If the compote is tarter than you’d like, add 1-2 tbs sugar or honey.