Cranberries date back to the Pilgrims. One can imagine that the Indians brought them to that first Thanksgiving meal in 1620. Having now visited Nantucket for three consecutive summers, eating chocolate covered cranberries and imagining autumn, when the island turns red from the cranberry bogs, I appreciate cranberries more than ever. I added French toast casserole with cranberries to my holiday menu last year. This Christmas I may feel obligated to make a Nantucket Cranberry Pie as well. After years of jellied cranberry sauce out of a can, I discovered delicious homemade cranberry sauce when a friend began giving me a small jar each December. I persuaded her to share her recipe, and I have been making the real thing ever since. I don’t know of anything else that is so impressive while so easy to make. The only trick is to cook it long enough to jell but not so long as to make it gummy.
4 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup fresh orange juice (2 large or 3 small oranges) + grated rind of 1 orange
Dash Tabasco salt
Wash cranberries. Grate the peel of one orange. Place sugar, orange juice, grated rind and Tabasco in a large kettle and bring to a boil. When sugar melts, cover for a minute to allow steam to wash down the sides of the kettle. Add cranberries and continue to cook over medium heat. They will begin to pop in about 5 minutes. When the mixture is bubbling fiercely, lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally. Press unpopped cranberries against the side of the kettle to speed up the process. While called a sauce, this is more properly a jam. The longer you cook, the more jellied the mixture will become. When it reaches the desired thickness (about 15-20 minutes total cooking time for the cranberries), remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly before pouring into heat-resistant jars; cool; refrigerate. Can be stored indefinitely in refrigerator. Makes about 3 cups.
Note: Recipe can be easily doubled or tripled if you use a 4- to 6-quart kettle. Bags of fresh cranberries seem to have shrunk in size to 3 cups since this recipe was written. I simply buy 3 bags of cranberries, double the recipe and use the leftover cup of cranberries in the recipe below. Or you can freeze them until the next time you make cranberry sauce.
French Toast Casserole with Fresh Cranberries and Cranberry Sauce
1 loaf (12 to 14 slices) day-old thick-sliced white bread—“Texas toast”
1 quart milk
5 large eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup fresh cranberries (or golden raisins)
Butter a shallow 9×13-inch casserole. Mix together milk, eggs, sugar and seasonings. Cut crusts off bread and line the bottom of the casserole with half the bread. Pour half the custard mix over the bread; scatter fresh cranberries across the top. Add another layer of bread, then remaining custard. Refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with homemade cranberry sauce, syrup or honey. Serves 10.
Note: In 2014 I started seeing recipes for “French toast casserole.” Upon examination, I realized they were nothing more than bread pudding made with sliced instead of torn bread. IMHO the old Bon Ton Café in downtown New Orleans always served the best bread pudding to be found anywhere. Looking for a casserole to serve the family on Thanksgiving morning (considering the vegetarian and the one who doesn’t eat cheese), I improvised on the Bon Ton recipe, taking two shortcuts: I did not scald the milk, and I didn’t place the casserole in a shallow pan of water. I also did not serve whiskey sauce with it. It was a big hit, and I expect to repeat it when the family is here for Christmas next month.