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Wonderfully Circuitous | Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

Eight years ago, I made Nantucket Cranberry Pie for the first time. I wrote about it on my old blog, which I kept for three years, beginning right after college and leading up until when I started this one. It’s a wonderful record of who I was then, in the same way that reading this blog brings me back to different times and seasons. And speaking of seasons: even then, I was obsessed with them, and the ways their rhythms both do and don’t mirror those of our lives.

In the past emotional year, four seasons made the list of things that appealed about a move back to the Midwest. And here we are, trying those seasons out for a spin again, testing the hypothesis that we’d be glad to have them back.

It’s strange to experience things that are largely familiar as a version of myself to whom these things are foreign. That is, theoretically, I know all about the four seasons, winter, unseasonable cold snaps, et cetera. I was in California for 7 years, but I’m almost 33—that’s over three-quarters of my life spent in the Midwest. Yet it’s approximately the reverse when considering my so-called adult life; it turns out that I’ve spent most of it in California. Experiencing these Midwestern rhythms brings me back to tucked-away memories from before that era: the years Ben and I were falling in love, my early twenties, college, childhood, flipping back the photo album to pages that I just haven’t landed on for a while. And it’s not just memories that come back—there are things I think to make (or do or explore) here that just never came to mind in California.

For example: in the realm of produce, there’s little that the rest of America has on California—this is simply the truth. But California doesn’t have everything, regardless of what you’ve been told, and cranberries are one of those things (I’m sure they’re somewhere?! But they’re certainly not abundant). And so, when I enthusiastically picked them up at the market here in Chicago this fall, I looked at my bounty and realized I didn’t have a plan. And then I remembered Nantucket Cranberry Pie.

Nantucket Pie, as you may know, is not a pie but a cake, unless you hold the definition of pie extremely loosely. I learned about it from a Michigan Cranberry Marketing Committee brochure I was given by a not-so-friendly cranberry vendor at my Grand Rapids farmers market in 2011. In the post I wrote way back then, I mention that Laurie Colwin includes it in More Home Cooking, which at the time I’d never read (and seems a much more reasonable and charming place to encounter a recipe such as this, I have to say). But this year, when I dug up the recipe on my blog—I don’t think I made it once while living in California—I absolutely had that book on hand. (If you don’t know Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, go find them now; they are a true delight.) That old blog post is about making dinner with Ben, when everything was ahead of us, a big anxious fabulous mystery, and here we are, all these years along, adventures and joys and sorrows behind us, the wild world more or less the same before us. It all feels wonderfully circuitous to me.

All this to say, I’m the same and I’m not, just like you. The year’s end is nearing, and I’m about to become a big ball of nostalgia, unapologetically so. We grow and we change, but we stay the same—and aren’t you glad it’s both? The things of our pasts offer old comfort and new surprises alike; at times, these are somehow one and the same.

And so I bring you Nantucket Cranberry Pie again, because I’ve discovered it again, and it felt both new and old. The cranberries do sit at the bottom in a way that resembles pie, though it perhaps feels like some mashup of cake and cobbler more than anything else. It is especially good with barely sweetened whipped cream alongside. It is also, as is well reported by the internet, shockingly easy. It would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving weekend table, if you’re looking for something sweet once the pumpkin pie has run out but the hungry guests are still around.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb
Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Adapted from Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking, various sources on the internet and my 2011 self

Serves 6 to 8

Some recipes call for chopping the cranberries. I like them whole, but chopped (or half of them chopped) also works and is perhaps somewhat more pie-like. This amount of sugar is plenty sweet for my palate and preserves the zing of the tart cranberries, but you can increase the first quantity of sugar to 1/2 cup if you like. I found one version of the recipe that brings the butter down to a stick, but I just don’t think this is the time or place for quite that much restraint, so I’ve not tried it. A splash of almond extract, however, is not out of place.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

2 heaped cups (about 225 grams) cranberries

1/2 cup (60 grams) walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

1/3 cup (70 grams) cane sugar

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

1 cup (200 grams) cane sugar, plus additional for sprinkling

1 cup (140 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie or cake pan. Spread the cranberries on the bottom of the pan, followed by the walnuts or pecans, if using. Sprinkle the 1/3 cup of sugar on top.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and beat with a whisk until incorporated, switching to a spatula once it gets thick. Pour the mixture over the cranberries and smooth the top. Sprinkle the cake with a bit more sugar if you like.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is light brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with whipped cream alongside. Tightly wrapped, the cake will keep for a couple of days on the countertop or in the refrigerator.

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