(Russ Parsons/Los Angeles…)
Saturday’s column about my search for the source of my mom’s cranberry recipe got a lot of readers writing. I have to admit that I was half expecting someone to tell me that the source of the recipe was something incredibly obvious that I’d overlooked. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
But while the mystery remains just that, it was really wonderful to hear from so many people who have added Mom Parsons' cranberries to their holiday repertoire. There’s no greater reward for a recipe writer than to know they’ve contributed a dish that is now a part of someone else’s family tradition.
Laura Justman says she’s been serving it for years, though with an adjustment. “The year your recipe appeared in the paper, it was alongside a recipe for pumpkin pie, which I had cut out because I was looking for a good pie crust recipe. When I took notice of your Mom's cranberry recipe, I decided I had to make that. Boy was it good! As your article stated, I too used orange juice in place of water. I also used the pulp and juice from the zested orange. I had tripled the recipe, and added the whole cloves and allspice berries, as directed. Then I packed it away in the fridge to get happy for a few days.
“On Thanksgiving day, as I was putting it into a serving bowl, I took out the cinnamon sticks. Then, to my surprise, I couldn't find ALL of the whole cloves and berries! With the gorgeous, deep, red color of the sauce, some were impossible to find. If you look at the directions on the picture of my old recipe, it does not say to put the spices in a sachet. With all of my experience, I should have thought of that. The following years, you can see from my notes on the recipe, I used ground spices, added just before taking it off the heat. I also use half brown sugar. I had to laugh at the memory of me trying to find all of the whole cloves and berries, hoping no one would bite into one.
“I always make a lot, as it goes great with my brisket at our Hanukkah parties, and works well in Jell-o molds. At one Hanukkah party, I heard a guest exclaim, "this is the BEST cranberry sauce I have EVER had!" I turned around to see she had taken the serving bowl off of the buffet and was eating it with the serving spoon at the table! I was shocked at the time, but laugh at it now.
“I always marvel and look at all the tantalizing Thanksgiving and holiday recipes every year, but end up making the exact same menu that we have had for over 50 years, although from scratch. It’s what everyone looks forward to once a year, it’s tradition. I do have some treasured recipes that I have saved from newspapers and note cards written many moons ago. I love the holidays and the traditions that are unique to our family. Pulling out your Mom's recipe each year, even though I know it by heart, warms my heart and signals the start of the holiday season.”
(Just for the record: After several reader questions in the past, we adjusted the recipe this time around to include the sachet. But my family still prefers the spices loose. Biting into a whole clove seems to be part of the tradition.)
Several readers suggested that the solution to the mystery of Mom Parsons' Cranberries is that it’s the result of her adapting an existing recipe.
Diane Taylor wrote: “Regarding your mother's cranberry recipe … 'even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.' Maybe your Mom worked from a basic recipe and came up with her own blend…. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt. My mom passed 3 months ago and I have several of her much-loved recipe cards. And while I know they are not her original recipes, she made them so often, they ARE her recipes to me.”
Ann Coppin agreed: “You mention two similar recipes found in her cooking books. I suspect she may have altered them to fit her tastes and needs. She sounds very similar to my late mother in her approach to cooking. I know my mother adapted the Libby Pumpkin pie recipe because she did not like the flavor of cloves and preferred the flavor of half and half to canned milk. She told me this when she gave me her recipe. I also do not consider myself a 'creative' cook but adapt recipes to my tastes and needs.”
This is certainly possible, but since the changes were actually written down, I think it’s probably more likely that it was her mother who made them. Maybe I’m wrong, though.
There were a couple of pleas (commands?) not to let my mom’s recipe cards slip away. Suzanne Bigelow “encouraged”:
“PLEASE,PLEASE, PLEASE have your daughter save the original in a protective covering. At 76 (I still have 38 years to go) I am being asked by the younger ones about some of the recipes we have in our family cookbook. I shall start scanning them -- the originals -- and include them in the updated version.