Friday, November 11, 2011

quite unexpected

Sometimes the best things are the simple things, the hidden ones, the unexpected goodness found when you least expect it.

Like Nantucket Pie, for example.

Perhaps this will not surprise you, well-informed reader, but Nantucket Pie--it's a thing! I had no idea. But it's out there. Baking in people's ovens, residing on their food blogs, perched upon dining room tables and kitchen counters. Particularly in Nantucket, I assume.

I'm told that the late Laurie Colwin has a classic version of this recipe in her book More Home Cooking. The recipe featured here today, however, came to me a few Saturdays ago in a slightly more haphazard way than, you know, a book. (As is appropriate, I imagine. My life feels much more haphazard than your typical glossy cookbook photograph.)

I purchase my cranberries faithfully from the cranberry lady at my local farmers market, who also sells blueberries in the summertime, offers a plethora of surely-scrumptious-yet-extremely-expensive jams (due to the latter part of that description, I have purchased approximately one) and is the only certified organic berry vendor at the market.

Yet I must say that Cranberry Lady is not particularly...friendly. She's not unpleasant, just distracted. Or extremely disinterested? I'm not entirely sure. On the Saturday morning in question, after she handed me my box of cranberries, I was responding with an overenthusiastic smile (in hopes of lifting her spirits) and turning to go when she reached toward me again, a brochure in her hand. No eye contact. Then one word, in complete monotone: "Here."

Now as it happens, what Cranberry Lady lacks in enthusiasm, her pamphlet provides in abundance. It is all about the humble cranberry! The pamphlet comes by way of the Michigan Cranberry Marketing Committee--which I didn't even know we had! I'm learning so many new things. "Say yes to Michigan cranberries!" the pamphlet instructs me with evident enthusiasm.

And indeed, I do. Yes, Michigan cranberries, yes.

And so it came to pass that a few days later, whilst making dinner with Ben and craving dessert (as is typical) to accompany it, I remembered the notably brief recipe I'd spotted in the brochure. Nantucket Pie, or Henrietta's Easy Cranberry Pie, it was called, though as I scanned the ingredients and extremely concise instructions, it seemed unlikely to me that this eight-line recipe was going to produce anything much like a pie. It was mysterious. I wanted dessert. We gave it a go.

Before we knew it, my apartment was filled with the scent of comfort and warmth and the holidays. Dessert was completed before dinner, but we showed tremendous restraint and ate our vegetables first.

And oh, but what a worthwhile wait! The pie was scrumptious. As I will not be the first to note, this recipe produces a "pie" that is not very pie-like. It's more reminiscent of a cake, a simple one, the kind I most enjoy. Most of the cranberries linger near the bottom, and the moist cake rises between them, culminating with a crisp top. The flavor is simple and delicious.

I made it again last night, and after I had slowly eaten my slice, pausing between each bite, I was very, very sad that it was over.

Part of the goodness of the Nantucket Pie is that its deliciousness and my sense of culinary success were so utterly unexpected. Hardly any ingredients, obscenely simple instructions, an incredibly quick preparation, the mysterious label of "pie" for something quite decidedly not pie--I had very low expectations.

If you think something is going to be good and it is good, that's wonderful. But if you have no idea what is coming and it turns out to be this good...well. That is another thing entirely.

And I probably don't even need to tell you outright, but all of this is much like my life.

Yours, too, I imagine.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie
Adapted from the Michigan Cranberry Marketing Committee brochure

2 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, no need to defrost)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped, optional
1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) butter, melted
3/4 - 1 cup sugar (if you like, swap out 1/4 cup for brown sugar)
1 cup all-purpose flour (or, 1/2 cup white + 1/2 cup whole wheat)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat over to 375 F.

Butter a 9-or-so-inch pie pan. Pour in the cranberries and then the walnuts, if using. Sprinkle the first 1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar on top.

Combine the remaining ingredients and beat until incorporated. Pour the mixture over the cranberry layer.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top of the pie/cake is a lovely shade of light brown.

Yield: 6 slices


  1. I usually think of cranberries as limited to sauce for thanksgiving and garlands for christmas trees. this cranberry pie recipe is blowing my mind right now.

  2. karah!! glad to expand your cranberry horizons. I think you would like this--and it's honestly super easy. wish we could be baking together! and ben: thanks. I'll share with you any day.

  3. Your Mom made this for us tonight, and it was mmmmm, mmmmm, good!