We ate lots of cranberries when I was growing up; they are plentiful in our area of the country and are harvested every fall for sale locally through farmer’s markets and grocery stores. We enjoyed cranberries with major celebration meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, as well as with ordinary roast-chicken dinners for our family of six.
Mom cooked the cranberries in a big pot on the stove, adding just enough water and sugar to leave the berries sweet but still tart, then she poured the hot cranberry sauce into mason jars and sealed them tight. The bottled cranberries were placed on a shelf in our cellar, next to bottles of homemade pickles and green tomato chow and strawberry jam.
I dreaded hearing the words, “Sylvia, would you go down to the cellar and get a bottle of sweet-mixed pickles, please?”
Our farmhouse cellar was not your typical basement of today, carpeted and heated and housing a family room with reclining furniture and a big-screen television. No. Our cellar was dark and dank, with stone steps leading down from our vestibule to a narrow door that creaked open, and I had to enter the darkness in order to reach the bare-bulb light with pull-chain hanging from the ceiling. Our cellar smelled of sprouted potatoes and damp wood stacked for the furnace, and of monsters.
I knew our cellar housed monsters—I could hear them each time I had to descend into it and twist my way down the narrow hall, past open bins where we stored potatoes and carrots for the winter, past the two wood furnaces that choked and sputtered as they devoured large sticks of wood, and into the far reaches of the cellar where we kept the preserves. As I grew older I had to bend my head to avoid hitting it against the low ceiling beams in that area of the cellar, and I was the shortest person in my family!
Once I had the bottle of pickles or cranberries or tomato chow in hand, I would retrace my steps as fast as I could to the open door and safety, the monsters nipping at my heels all the way. By the time I pulled the cellar door shut and fastened the hook that kept the monsters on the other side, I was a wreck—pulse rapid, my breath in short gasps, my still-undeveloped chest heaving, but I had survived one more trip to the cellar, and for that I was thankful.
Today’s fancy bread recipe uses fresh or frozen cranberries, and also contains orange juice and rind. A wonderful combination of tastes, and this bread doesn’t need to be kept in a basement or cellar. Thank goodness for that; I still don’t like monsters.
Cranberry Casserole Bread
2 cups flour
¾ cup white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup shortening
¾ cup orange juice
1 Tbsp. grated orange rind
2 eggs well beaten
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries
½ cup glace green cherries
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.
Combine orange juice and grated rind with well beaten eggs. Pour all at once into dry ingredients, mixing just enough to dampen.
Dust chopped cranberries and cherries with 1 Tbsp. flour. Add to mixture. Pour into greased loaf pan.
Bake in moderate (350°F) oven for 1 hour or better. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then remove from pan. Allow to stand overnight for easy slicing.