People might grumble about holiday turkey, but even the most disenchanted grumbler will usually choke down a bite or two, just for appearances. Seldom is the same courtesy extended to the cranberry, which often reaches the table as a pretty red relish no one really wants. The cranberry is the orphan of holiday cooking and a true measure of its lowly state a punch line for sitcom jokes, from The Simpsons to Frasier.
To say all the neglect, abuse, and humor amount to an injustice is a considerable understatement. The cranberry is one of nature's superfoods, for one thing, richer in antioxidants than just about everything else and, as the Indians understood, endowed with medicinal properties. (Cranberries were used to treat urinary-tract infections.)
But as food marketers have long known, "good for you" isn't the sexiest pitch. Better to flash a little thigh but does the cranberry have any thigh to flash? The answer is yes! Forget about the wretched relish and turn your holiday cranberries into a lovely dessert tart. (By doing this you will also rid the holiday world of at least one pumpkin pie, another deathless perennial no one seems to like.)
If you are truly ambitious, you can make a cranberry version of linzer torte using the recipe in Emily Luchetti's Classic Stars Desserts (Chronicle, 2007). I made a rustic galette but did start with a version of her filling: basically a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed, then simmered in a heavy saucepan with a cup of sugar, a few tablespoons of water, and the zest of one orange until jamminess was achieved.
Pastry: a cup of all-purpose flour into the food processor, followed by six tablespoons of sweet butter (in chunks) and a pinch of salt. When it looks like cornmeal, dribble in ice water (machine still running) until a ball forms. Chill briefly, then shape into a 10-inch disk. Lay the disk on parchment paper on a baking tray. In the middle of the disk, spread three tablespoons each of sugar and flour. Spread about half of your jam over this, add five more tablespoons of sugar, and fold up the edges into a rough circle. Brush the pastry with water, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Cool, and give thanks.