Celebrate Local Cranberries with This Cranberry Tart

Oregon cranberries are one of those somewhat under-the-radar crops though, in fact, cranberries are native to the Northwest. The berries have been harvested by indigenous people for millenia and were (and still are) used fresh and dried in many traditional foods. They were traded widely among First Nation people on traditional trade routes, along with salmon and other products.

Cranberry bog.

Cranberries were first grown commercially in Oregon by Charles McFarlin, who settled in Coos County after failing, like so many others, to make a fortune during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. He planted vines he brought from Massachusetts, later developing a variety known as McFarlin that is still grown today.

Most of the state's cranberries are grown in Coos and Curry counties on the South Coast and, at nearly 3,000 acres and accounting for 95 percent of the state's production, it's just five percent of the nation's commercial harvest. Most cranberry growers are heavily reliant on pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds that can devastate crops, but there's a growing number of farmers who are transitioning to organic methods.

Cranberry harvest.

While small in number, organic cranberry farmers are joining forces and sharing successes and challenges, according to an article from Oregon Tilth, one of the region's largest organic certifying agencies. It says that state agricultural agencies, which normally provide support to farmers, are almost exclusively geared to conventional growers and aren't up to speed on the specific needs and challenges of organic farmers, so this homegrown network of organic growers has become critical to the success and availability of locally grown, organic cranberries.

Cranberries are a family affair.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” according to cranberry farmer Richard Schmidt, who is quoted in the article and, with his wife, Pam Schmidt, owns Schmidt Berries in Bandon. “We’ve really relied on our neighbor, Ty Vincent, and his dad, Bill Vincent [of Vincent Family Cranberries]. They were the ones that put the farm into transition [to organic] after 30-plus years of traditional practice. It’s their expertise and practical experience that have made our new inexperienced farmer reality much easier. They are the essence of succession in a community. We’d never really been farmers before, and had never lived or farmed on the Oregon coast…we mainly rely on our neighbors. We’ll help them harvest, and they help us harvest. They’re organic too, so we can share equipment, which is kind of nice.”

You can find local, organic cranberries at some stores and area farmers' markets, and I can't say enough about the flavor of these ruby-colored jewels in jams, chutneys, sauces and, of course, pastries. This recipe for a cranberry tart is one of those can't-miss, smash hits that has been the raved-about culmination of two dinners so far this season!

Cranberry Tart

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in the ice water over the flour mixture until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Just before the dough finishes chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface. Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Photo of cranberry bog from USDA. Photos of harvest from Vincent Family Cranberries.

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

We are rich with talented friends who also happen to be great home cooks. Bruce's pork vindaloo. Denise's Korean mandoo dumplings. Jeff's tarte tatin. Kathryn's shrimp and grits. Wendy's cakes. Dana's curried squash.

Here at home I have the good fortune to have a husband who smokes his own bacon, bakes six loaves of organic sourdough every two weeks and loves to make breakfast on the weekend, particularly if it involves baking up a batch of scones or biscuits to go with his Julia Child-worthy cheese omelets. (Did I mention he's also become quite the home bartender, whipping up cocktails at the drop of a hat?)

So when I stumble downstairs on Saturday morning and see him bustling around the kitchen with flour on his hands and the oven warming the house, I know by the time I get the dogs fed and finish my first cup of coffee he'll be pulling out a pan of his signature baked goods and setting them on the counter with butter and jam.

I know, how lucky am I?

Dave's To-Die-For, Sky-High Biscuits

2 1/4 c. (285g) all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. (75g) very cold butter
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor. Pulse half a dozen times and check for the size of the butter pieces. Repeat if necessary until the butter is in pieces roughly the size of peas.

Put flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the cold milk. Toss together gently until barely combined. As soon as the dough holds together, turn it out on a lightly floured counter. Gently "knead" the dough a few strokes until it is a mostly a cohesive ball. The fewer kneads the better.

Pat out the dough with your hands into a rectangle 1/2" to 3/4" inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Cut into 2-inch circles (you should get approximately 6 to 8), and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or sheet pan. Leftover dough can be gently combined and patted out again to make more biscuits.

Bake at 450° for 8 to 10 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Butter and eat while still warm, preferably with honey or a selection of homemade jams.

* Dave always weighs the flour and butter rather than measuring it in cups or measuring spoons.