Ain’t no party like a Crampari party!

Wow. Several weeks have lapsed since I spoke of the melty goodness that was Brusselled Mac. Where have I been, you wonder? Well, I honestly can’t tell you. The past few weeks have flown by in a flurry of parties, work, shopping trips, vacation plans, more work, and more parties. If you’ve ever worked retail during December, you know how the month can chew you up and spit you out. Those of us who have been doing it for a certain length of time have developed tried-and-true methods of coping with the madness that is Christmas in a specialty store. Yes, those methods usually involve heavy drinking and may cause temporary insanity, but they’ve carried me through many a holiday season serving hot chocolate to ice skating tourists and peeling price tags off of carefully wrapped candy bars and jars of jam.

Today, I am only a few hours away from the light at the end of my retail tunnel. I’m sitting in Chicago’s Midway International, thoroughly enjoying the patch of early morning sun while waiting for my flight’s departure. I’m on my way to the land of mangoes and manatees for a much-needed vacation along the shell-covered beaches of Sanibel Island, Florida. There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than lounging in a hammock with an umbrella-topped cocktail, spending languorous afternoons watching for manatees and dolphins. And that’s what I plan on doing for the next five days. Jealous yet?

I plan on rigorously documenting my meals in Florida, so expect to see plenty of citrus and fresh fish in the next few posts. For now, here’s two recipes that made their way into my holiday festivities. When I enthusiastically bought three pounds of cranberries from the McCarren park market, I knew that jamming was in order. Cardamom and ginger felt warm and spiced enough to allow this jam to walk the line between sweet treat and savory accompaniment. The Campari was a last-minute add-in, and completely experimental for me. Cranberry sauces and chutneys that I’ve made in the past usually call for some amount of citrus juice, be it orange or lemon, to assist the tart berries in turning juicy. The Campari here does the same trick, and adds a herbacious quality that is unexpectedly lovely. Hand-labeled and adorned with twine bows and pine sprigs, I doled jars of this jam out to friends as Christmas presents along with some peach and bourbon butter I made from the last of my flash-frozen CSA bounty.

The rest of the cranberries were bathed in custard and swathed in a buttery shell for my shop’s annual holiday potluck. Debates over the origin of the name ‘chess pie’ run deep.  But one thing is certain in my book, it’s delicious and simple and you should probably be whipping one up right now. Because, really, what could be better than warm buttermilk custard with bright winter fruits? (Well, aside from Floridian sunshine and drinks with little umbrellas.) I’d say not much.

Crampari Jam
makes 12 4-oz jars

24 oz fresh cranberries
12 cardamom pods, gently cracked to open pods
4 tbsp ginger, chopped
1 cup Campari
1 1/2 c water
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, juiced

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until berries begin to pop, about an hour. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash berries against the side of the pan. Continue cooking until jam starts to thicken and passes the cold spoon test, approximately 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before straining over a bowl to remove pulp and cardamom pods. Distribute jam among 12 4 oz sterilized jars. Process jars in a hot water bath for 30 min. Jam will keep indefinitely sealed, or about a month opened and refrigerated.

Cranberry Chess Pie
very slightly adapted from StyleBlueprint

1 prepared pie crust
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp finely grated tangerine zest
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

Roll pie crust out to fit a 9-inch tart pan. Refrigerate until firm. Preheat oven to 375º. Blind-bake tart shell for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool. Leave oven on. In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Stir in the flour, then the buttermilk, vinegar, and zests, mixing well. Stir in the cranberries. Scrape the mixture into the partially baked pie shell. Bake the pie until the top is lightly golden brown and the filling is firm, 50-60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut pie into wedges and serve at room temperature.