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I couldn’t let the holidays pass without talking cranberries.

I stock up whenever I see fresh cranberries this time of year. That’s because you’ll only find them between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Though if you ask me, we should eat them year-round. Just not dried cranberries, as they contain an insane amount of added sugar. I would recommend unsweetened dried cranberries, but they don’t seem to exist. Apparently the tartness is too much for the average American sugar addict to handle.

I must look like I hoard cranberries for the apocalypse. I swear I get weird looks from folks in the grocery store when they see me loading up my basket with bag after bag. But I toss them in my freezer until I get around to them, which never takes long.

The other day I was waiting in the checkout line when the lady in front of me turned around, looked into my basket, saw my cranberry supply and proceeded to tell me about her favorite cranberry pie recipe. I appreciate the thought ma’am, but I know what I’m doing. You don’t buy six pounds of cranberries in one shopping trip and go home pondering what to do with them. I smiled and thanked her anyway, wondering why I wasn’t more like the other introverts and wore headphones at the grocery store. Not to be a jerk, I just want to get what I need and go on to the next item on my to-do list.

I could actually do with fewer ideas on how to use cranberries. In the past month I’ve made cranberry sauce, cranberry conserve, cranberry cocktails and sugared cranberries. This week, I’ll add fresh cranberries into scones and try out a holiday jam recipe that is made up of mostly cranberries. I am also making my way through last fall’s supply of cranberry ketchup, and for Christmas I will likely bake the cranberry gingerbread cake I shared with you last year. At this point, I probably bleed cranberry juice. But let’s not find out.

It’s the conserve I wanted to talk about this time around. And if you’re asking yourself what a conserve is, you’re not alone. I wasn’t sure either until I came across it in one of my cookbooks. It has nothing to do with cranberry conservation. Rather, a conserve is pretty much a chunky jam.

Conserves contain fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts. They have more texture and substance than jam. The best way to describe a cranberry conserve is to compare it to a fresh cranberry sauce. To be clear, it’s nothing like the jellied cranberry sauce from a can. On the other hand, you could can a conserve at home and the freshness of the fruit holds up well while stored in the pantry. You’ll have instant cranberry goodness whenever you want it.

The question is what to do with it once you have it. Since making this cranberry conserve a few weeks ago, we’ve added spoonfuls into our morning oatmeal and yogurt almost daily. I also stuck some in the middle of a grilled cheese and I’ve even just spread it over toast. Try putting some out with cheese and crackers the next time you have friends over, or use it in place of cranberry sauce with your next roast dinner. If you’re still in search of gift ideas, a jar of this could do. I like to think that homemade anything has a ton of value. It shows you spent time and put thought into something.

When making this conserve, you could try replacing the orange with a lemon, using a pear in place of an apple, and swapping your favorite dried fruit and nuts for the raisins and walnuts. If flat or sour tasting in the end, add a pinch or two of salt. I also find that the flavor improves after it’s had some time to meld.

Cranberry conserve

servings: makes about 4 cups

1 organic orange

1 apple

1 ½ cups water

One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

½ cup raisins

1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup chopped walnuts

directions:

If canning, put two small plates in the freezer.

Wash and scrub the orange. Then finely chop the whole thing, removing the seeds as you go. Peel, core and chop the apple.

Add the chopped apple and orange into a large pan with the water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for amount 5 minutes. Add the cranberries, raisins and sugar and simmer for another 15 minutes at a steady pace, stirring occasionally and adding the nuts in the last five minutes of cooking. Cover the pan if it starts to splatter, which it likely will.

If planning to eat right away or store in the fridge (for up to two weeks): remove from the heat and cool.

If canning: grab one of those plates from the freezer. Place a spoonful of the conserve on the plate, let sit for a minute then run your finger through it. If the conserve stays in place and doesn’t look runny, it’s ready. If runny, simmer for another few minutes and test again.

To can, fill clean and hot 8-ounce jars with the conserve, leaving a ½ inch headspace from the top. Stir to remove air bubbles, wipe the rim clean and place on a clean lid and ring. Boil in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.

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