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Damn that real life, getting in the way of blogging. Here’s hoping it will be more respectful in the future.While I was gone, autumn officially arrived. Oh, sure, it’s getting colder and wetter, the days are shorter, and the leaves are turning, but that isn’t what makes it official. What makes it official, for me at least, is the sudden onset of my own particular brand of Seasonal Affective Disorder: the Cranberry Craze. I love all the fall produce, from pears to pumpkins, but I lose all sense of reason or proportion when the cranberries start appearing in the stores. I’m like a moth drawn to the flame, helpless to resist the siren call of these little garnet beauties. I’ll buy two bags at a time, every single time I go to the store, until well past Thanksgiving, until my freezer resembles a gumball machine, until Ocean Spray starts sending me personally signed letters of deep and sincere gratitude. I don’t have nearly enough recipes to use up all those berries, and I’ll end up freezing cups and cups of cranberry sauce (the default option), but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is snatching them up and finding some way, any way, to show off their perfect ruby gleam.

It’s a recent infatuation, this mad passion for cranberries. I hated them for years, never understanding the point of the sour, acerbic, weirdly gelatinous stuff Mom insisted on setting alongside the turkey. Something odd happened when I moved to Boston, though. Overnight, without even realizing it, I tossed aside those years of contempt and fell head-over-heels in love with them, and with the bogs they grow in. There’s just something about how cranberries grow, the sandy, swampy place of their birth, and the way that they’re harvested, that just struck me as wonderfully romantic and so perfectly symbolic of New England itself. What moors were to the Brontes, cranberry bogs are to me, and although I loathe those soul-sucking endless winters and never want to be subject to another one ever again, I might actually be tempted to move back if it meant having my own cranberry bog. It’s a strange little sickness, I know, but there you are.

So you see, with that level of weakness, it was a given that I would buy a gigantic container of fresh cranberries when I saw them at Trader Joe’s this weekend. When I got them home, I flipped through cookbooks and Googled madly, looking for some new and interesting way to showcase these beloved little gems. I finally decided to try a recipe for Cranberry Nut Bars, from Ocean Spray by way of an article in the Detroit News, mostly because I was feeling slightly lazy after spending a good amount of my Sunday baking reserves making scones that morning for breakfast. Since this recipe involved melting the butter and quickly stirring things together, it seemed a great candidate for Sunday baking, and since it wouldn’t use up all the cranberries, I figured I had nothing to lose if they turned out awfully. I went in with low expectations, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. These bars are simple and quick, but also quite tasty and rather pretty in their craggy, fruit-and-nut-studded poundcake-like austerity, and they were a huge hit with the coworkers this morning. I will probably tinker with the recipe a bit, since I can’t leave well enough alone. I think a few spices and some orange zest, and perhaps a slightly higher ratio of walnuts and a few more berries, would make it even better. I would probably also toast the walnuts first, to bring out more of their flavor and crunch. Still, it’s an effortless and very auspicious start to the season of cranberry-induced temporary insanity.

Cranberry Nut Bars
Makes 16 bars

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease an 8-inch baking pan.

Beat eggs in medium mixing bowl until thick. Gradually add sugar and beat until thoroughly blended, then incorporate the melted butterl.

Gently fold in flour, then add cranberries and walnuts and mix just until evenly distributed.

Spread batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool and cut into 16 bars.

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