Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cranberry Pie: A Recipe Born in Easton

By Christina Georgiou

"Born-in-Easton Cranberry Pie" with a totally optional sugared star top crust
 There are lots of things that got their start in Easton, Pennsylvania. Most of them are somewhat famous, and a number of them are traditions.

This recipe isn't famous (yet), and it's not really a tradition either, though it did ensure family peace for me one Thanksgiving about nine or ten years ago.

However, it was "born" in Easton, and it's not only ridiculously easy to make, it will make you look like a culinary genius, even if boiling an egg scares you.

It's also very inexpensive to make as well.

Seriously, it would be pretty hard to screw this up, and it's pretty delicious.

So, first the recipe, then the back story...

Born-in-Easton Cranberry Pie

  • 2 cans of whole berry cranberry sauce (not jellied!)
  • Sugar (about 1/4 cup, though you won't need to measure)
  • a 9-inch pie crust--any kind, regular, graham cracker, whatever (how to make your own pie pastry follows at the bottom of the page)
Sprinkle a little bit of sugar at the bottom of the pie crust. Dump the first can on cranberry sauce into the crust on top, even it out so it's a smooth layer. Sprinkle with sugar, just enough so you can see it's there, but not enough to make the sauce white with it. Dump in the second can of sauce, sprinkle more sugar on top, the same as the first time.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 50-55 minutes, or until the edges of the pie crust are lightly browned.
(The filling may have little liquid still left on top, but not much--this will jell up as the pie cools. Check and turn the pie about halfway through baking to ensure things are going well and to ensure it's baking evenly.)

Cool thoroughly. Put the pie in the refrigerator if you need to cool it quickly. It should be served either at room temperature or chilled.

That's it! Enjoy!

  • Add walnuts or almonds. You can mix them into both cans of cranberry sauce separately or as a middle or top layer when you're making the pie. If you do it as a layer, sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top.
  • Only have one can of cranberry sauce handy? Add another fruit. Sliced apple on the bottom, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar is nice. Mixing peeled, sliced oranges or clementines into the one can of cranberry sauce is also pretty awesome.
  • Add a top crust or lattice top if you're making your own crust or you've bought a crust that comes with a top. If doing a full crust, don't forget to cut a few vent holes to prevent it from bursting. Use a cookie cutter for a cute shape, or just a knife. Cut something meaningful to really make it special--"Happy Thanksgiving", your family name, your initials, whatever you like.
  • Do any combination of the above for an extra special version of this pie.

How "Born-in-Easton Cranberry Pie" Came to Be: A tale of desperation

When I was growing up, holidays, including Thanksgiving, were always a big deal.

Everyone dressed up in their very best,and the food itself was not only abundant, it was pretty fancy too.

This was an occasion where the silver was broken out and polished a week in advance, and the event was planned to a "T".

When I became an adult, while the gatherings got  smaller due to the oldest generation passing on, nothing really changed, except for one thing. 

On my mom's side of the family, I'm the only girl and therefore was expected to contribute to the feast from the moment I moved out and went to college, regardless of the fact that at the time that my small apartment didn't even have an oven, other than the portable toaster variety.

Cooking has always been a big deal too in the family, and everyone, including me, is pretty good at it. Both my mother and my aunt enjoy showing off a bit in the culinary department for the three big holidays too--Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.

However, unlike my mom and my aunt, I've never been married and also have never been a stay-at-home mom (or anyone's mom for that matter) with the time to plan these things as much as they do.
So while I'm happy to cook and quite decent at it, that means I don't always do it, especially when things are busy at work.

One year, right after I'd moved to Easton, the night before Thanksgiving, I realized that, despite having been told I didn't need to bring anything, I'd neglected to come up with something to bring.

Just because they said that, didn't mean they meant it--it was definitely required. Despite the fact that my brothers and cousins, also adults by then, were totally off the hook.

Bringing something towards dessert, I'd found over the years, was the route to go. It qualified nicely, and there was little to no chance of it clashing with the rest of the meal or anyone (mom!) finding something to complain about.

Nine or ten years ago, however, not nearly as many grocery stores around here kept the long hours they do today, especially on the night before Thanksgiving. It was really late, like near or after midnight, and I'd just gotten home from work too.

So, what to do? No eggs in the fridge, light on a lot of usual baking essentials in the pantry. Cookies and cake were out, unless I wanted to go for a late-night grocery shopping adventure trying to find someone who was actually still open or pay a bunch extra at a convenience store. And I didn't.

But I did notice these two cans of whole berry cranberry sauce that had been hanging around in the pantry next to a can of pumpkin (which was dismissed, since I was sure someone already had the pumpkin pie covered, and again, I was out of eggs).

A light bulb went off in my head.

Whole berry cranberry sauce is remarkably similar to most fruit pie fillings. It's just not as sweet and made from cranberries, instead of peaches or some other fruit.

Hmmm. Seemed like not too much to risk. If it didn't work, well, I was already essentially sunk.

Sure, there's always a store-bought something that could be picked up somewhere along the hour-and-a-half trek to my aunt's house, but that wasn't going to pass muster with mom, even though at least it would be something.

So into the oven went one quickie pie crust and those two cans of cranberry sauce, along with a bit of extra sugar, fingers crossed.

And, it worked! Marvelously well, as a matter of fact. I don't think mom ever had any, but my brothers and cousins, enjoyed it quite a bit and said so. But, along with the fact that I'd shown up with something that was actually home-baked, that more than did the trick.

Full disclosure: Okay, now you know why the
top photo only shows half the pie--
this one didn't quite make it to Thanksgiving!

Over the years, I've pulled this recipe out (of my head--actually, this is the first time it's ever been written down) for a variety of occasions when I needed something quick and easy. Cranberry pies have accompanied me to a number of Revolutionary War reenactments I've attended and made some reappearances at a number of other fall gatherings, including other Thanksgiving day celebrations too.

It's never failed to be a hit.

Now I'm passing it on to you...If you're reading this at work today or on Wednesday night, and you find yourself thinking you need one more thing for your Thanksgiving Day feast or to bring to someone else's table tomorrow (or to keep your mother happy), give baking a "Born-in-Easton Cranberry Pie" a whirl.

You don't even have to mention how easy it is to make--I promise, I won't tell!

Pastry for a single crust pie:

Feeling crafty, short on a store-bought crust, or have a family that really wants homemade?

This too is very easy, and while it does require rolling out the pastry, you don't actually need a rolling pin. A wine bottle, straight-sided beer bottle or even an aluminum water bottle work fine. Do the rolling on a cutting board that's larger than your pie pan for easy clean up.

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening, softened butter, olive oil, or lard  (or some combination of those equalling 1/3 cup)
  • about 4 tablespoons of very cold water

In a bowl, work the first three ingredients together (with your hands or a fork, spoon or two butter knives, your choice) until well-blended. (Will be crumbly.)

Add the cold water a little bit at a time until a workable pastry dough is formed. (Let rest for a little bit, if you have the time. This will make rolling the dough out easier.)

Roll out the dough into a thin sheet that is a little larger than your pie pan. (If it sticks, sprinkle a little flour on your rolling surface.)

Lay the rolled out crust in the pie pan and either cut off the excess or roll the extra bits up around the pie pan edge. If you cut off the excess bits, you can reroll them and cut into shapes that can be worked onto the top of the pie as decoration.
(The above is adapted from the "Basic Pie Crust" recipe on the inside cover of The Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook--incidentally a rather awesome cookbook for anyone who wants to learn basic cooking or have an on-hand treasure trove of traditional American cooking recipes. I've personally long since abandoned using shortening, which the original recipe calls for, since I'm not a fan of transfats and think shortening makes the crust kind of bland anyway. I usually use a 50/50 mix of butter and olive oil, which makes a pretty awesome crust that still gives a nod in the direction of heart health, but whatever you've got on hand should be fine for cranberry pie.)

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