I distinctly remember the day last year when I finished my Florida Cracker Cranberry Jam from Urban Canning Company. I was so bummed; I took a picture of my last bite of toast spread thinly with the last speck of jam that I could scrape from the jar. That was the first time that I actually felt aware of the seasonal nature of produce–and that’s a shame. I think we take for granted the variety of produce that we can get year-round, despite the fact that a true growing season is anything but year-round. Our produce is typically shipped in from all around the world just so that we can have everything that we need–whenever we need it. Not so with this local cranberry specimen: it’s so unusual, you won’t see it at your local grocery store and once it’s gone, you’ll have to wait until its season comes again.
Did you know that Florida has its very own native cranberry plant? The Florida Cracker Cranberry, also called roselle, is a plant in the hibiscus family. It looks nothing like the northern-grown, bog-dwelling, round, red, hollow counterpart that we associate with Thanksgiving every year. Instead, this unusual fruit looks like a crimson flower with a bright green center. Despite its flowery appearance, our local cranberry is not a flower at all, but the calyx of the plant–the outer covering of the seed pod. I wouldn’t even think that you could eat it–but you can; they are tart, yet delicate. Since I was introduced to that Florida Cranberry Jam last November, I have been patiently waiting for it to reappear. It has been over a year since my jar was emptied, and when I saw these striking ruby-red beauties at the market a few weeks ago, I knew they deserved a spot at my Thanksgiving table–before they disappeared again.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with them, so I only bought one pint–I’m trying very hard not to be wasteful these days. Given that we would be traveling right up until Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t have much time to experiment. So, I made my Mother’s speedy cranberry sauce recipe but instead of using the microwave, I cooked it down on the stove. Since I already had some regular cranberries on hand, I threw those in with the roselles for good measure. What resulted was a sweet, spiced concoction that was more like a jam and less like a typical gelatinous cranberry sauce. The Florida Cranberry added a floral note and a unique texture that turned this “sauce” into a spread. While it started out as a condiment at my Thanksgiving table, it ended up being so versatile, I swirled in into my cottage cheese and yogurt, spread it on goat cheese crostini, and it even made a very fancy PB&J.
Being without a jar of Florida Cracker Cranberry Jam this year forced me to be creative and devise my own version just to get my fix. Although I felt a bit intimidated by the new cranberries in my kitchen, I rolled up my sleeves and dove right in. If I can find more, it may just be the perfect gift idea for the foodies in my life: their very own jar of Florida Cranberry Spread–made by me! Happy Holidays!
FLORIDA CRANBERRY SPREAD
The red “petals” of the Florida cranberry need to be stripped from the green seed pod center and tough base before using. If you cannot find them, substitute 1 extra cup of regular cranberries; just an FYI, without them, the end result will be thicker, but still just as flavorful.
2 cups cranberries
1 cup Florida cranberries, red “petals” peeled from green core
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon diced crystallized ginger
Zest of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole allspice berries
1/4 teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon ground star anise (optional)
Combine all ingredients into a large pot over medium heat. When mixture begins to boil, cover pot and turn down to low. Simmer for another 10 minutes and remove from heat. Remove cinnamon stick and allspice berries. Allow to cool. If not using immediately, refrigerate in air-tight container.
Makes about 2 cups.