The Cosmopolitan Fruit
Cranberries, one way or another, got their name from cranes. Some think the flower of the plant looks a lot like the bird’s head; others suggest it’s simply because cranes are attracted to bogs where cranberries grow. Though the fruit grew in England and Scotland, they were a diminutive species of what the Pilgrims would encounter on Cape Cod.
The climate and terrain of Cape Cod was ideal for cranberries that grew wild in the bogs there, especially in the Province Lands
near Provincetown. It’s no coincidence that they were first cultivated there—in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1816. Soon cranberries became a major export, first to the West Indies and then Europe. They were prized by sailors since they kept well on a long voyage and helped prevent scurvy.
For years, cranberries were synonymous with the Bay State, largely because of the Ocean Spray
company. In 1930, three cranberry growers got together to form a collective to better market their crop. From the beginning, one of the goals of Ocean Spray was to come up with new products made from cranberries. (Even today, only about 5% of the crop is sold fresh.) One of the original three growers, Marcus Urann, had already perfected a canned cranberry sauce and the new company soon introduced cranberry juice cocktail as well. In 1941, Ocean Spray introduced the jellied cranberry log and Thanksgiving has never been the same since. In 1993, they come up with Craisins—their registered brand name for a sweetened and dehydrated cranberry.
Massachusetts ruled as cranberry king until 1995 when Wisconsin bested them as the largest producer of cranberries in the country. Our state now accounts for about 57% of the total U.S. crop. Massachusetts comes in a distant second with about 23-30% of the total cranberries grown; followed by New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
For ions the only way to prepare cranberries was as a sauce or relish, inevitably around the holidays when they were available fresh. Then packaged frozen and dried, they commonly showed up in tea breads, whose popularity has lately been supplanted by muffins and scones.
Even before cranberry juice cocktail (sweetened and pasteurized juice) debuted, cranberries were consumed as a beverage. Inevitably, someone decided to mix things up, pairing the juice with alcohol. Vodka was the logical choice since the unique tang of the fruit didn’t pair well with other spirits like whiskey or gin. In 1956, Ocean Spray promoted a drink dubbed the “harpoon”, made mostly of cranberry juice with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of lime. The drink became popular in New England, but was more commonly called a Cape Codder or just “Codder”. At about the same time, the Sea Breeze made with gin, grapefruit juice and grenadine since the 1920s was reformulated; substituting vodka for gin and cranberry juice for grenadine.
But the diva of all cranberry concocted cocktails of course is the cosmopolitan. There are several different accounts as to how this now iconic libation came to be. Since I’m telling the tale, I’ll share the one that I think is most credible. By the 1970s, Provincetown
was a well-established gay summer resort. Visitors spent as much time in bars as they did at the beach; both the Sea Breeze and Cape Codder were popular drinks. As most cocktails of that era, they were fruity and served on the rocks. Martinis had been out of fashion for most of the decade until suddenly there was a renaissance for the straight-up cocktail. Tired of the same old thing, some inventive bartender—amateur or professional—came up with what he or she christened the “Stealth Martini” because of its deceptive punch. It was a hybrid of the earlier cranberry drinks and the martini—mostly vodka, flavored with cranberry, triple sec and lime. Summer vacationers returned to bars in their hometown—Boston, New York and elsewhere—armed with the recipe for this amazing pink drink. By the mid-eighties, this cocktail—now universally known as the Cosmopolitan—appeared on bar menus in New York, Miami and San Francisco. It reached ultimate trendiness in 1990s, frequently imbibed by Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Carrie Bradshaw, in the TV show Sex and the City
There are many arguments over how to make a perfect Cosmo. Whether to use citron-flavored vodka or not—Cointreau or triple sec—Rose’s or fresh lime juice. I know I’ve consumed many a retched rendition, inevitably too sweet and heavy-handed with the cranberry juice. Like any good cocktail, it’s important to have a balance of sweet and sour and complexity of flavor. (My favorite recipe follows.)
I don’t recommend making your own cranberry juice unless you have an electric juicer or dried cranberries unless you have an electric dehydrator. I do recommend making your own cranberry infused vodka—you can’t really buy anything like it. Easy to make, it’s got savor and sass without sweetness and a beautiful red color perfect for the holidays. (Recipe follows.)
Finally, a few more ways to enjoy cranberries outside of the can right here in Madison, capital of the Cranberry State.
. At the Capitol Chophouse
, bartender Mary Ward makes a cosmopolitan that is actually a variation, more properly called a “Metropolitan”. It uses Absolut Currant for the vodka.
Gingerbread Cranberry Cake
. A seasonal dessert specialty at Sardine
is this homey but sophisticated sweet—don’t pass it up when it’s on the menu!
Sand Creek Cranberry Ale
. A specialty brew made with Wisconsin cranberries and available right now at many area liquor stores and restaurants (a complete list is found on their website).
Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar
. There are quite a few cheese makers who add cranberries or chipotle chili peppers to their cheese, but Carr Valley
combines both. The result is award-winning cheddar that’s slightly sweet and spicy—just like a good barbecue sauce. Carr Valley cheese are available at Metcalfe’s
, Willy Street Co-op
, Jenifer Street Market and many other places that sell artisan cheese.
Gourmet Cranberry Relish
. This original recipe is made especially for Fromagination
by local jelly maker Quince & Apple
, available online
and at their store. They also sell chocolate covered cranberries!
This Wisconsin purveyor makes many cranberry products including sweet and spicy cranberry mustard that will dress up a holiday ham sandwich. For more of a kick, it also comes in a horseradish variety. Another “hot item” is their cranberry salsa. Their line of mustards and sauces are sold in specialty stores and on their website.
Best Ever Cosmopolitan
3 parts Absolut Citron vodka
1 part Cointreau
1 part each cranberry juice cocktail and unsweetened cranberry juice
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a large cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime slice or orange twist.
Cranberry Infused Vodka
2 cup picked-over fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1.75 liters cups vodka
In a small saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the sugar and water, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and cook until they just begin to pop and the liquid begins to turn a light pink. Pour the cranberries and their liquid into a large glass jar with a cover.
Use a vegetable peeler or a very sharp knife to peel each orange into a single long, thin spiral. Add the orange peel to the vodka and cranberries. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least one week or up to one month. Strain before serving. May be stored strained and covered in the refrigerator indefinitely.