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CHEF'S TABLE: Muskoka memories made of bogs and berries

Cranberries 'one of the most beautiful things to come out this time of year,' writes food columnist

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Growing up in Muskoka, we spent a lot of time outdoors. The forests, fields and trails in and around Bala were our playground. One really could not have asked for a more beautiful backdrop to spend our days.

Some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenery can be found in and around the many marshes and wetlands that mingle among the lakes. One might not expect a swamp could be beautiful, but they would be mistaken. There is beauty in the bog.

In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful things to come out this time of year are the ruby-red jewels of the bog — cranberries.

Cranberries are unique among fruit. They can only grow and survive with a special set of factors. They need to have acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, and a growing season from April to November.

Cranberries grow on low-lying vines in areas layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These areas are commonly known as bogs or marshes and were originally created by the melting glaciers and their deposits.

Today commercial bogs use systems of controlled wetlands, ditches and ponds that provide a perfect spot to grow the berries and, in turn, provide a habitat for a variety of plant and animal life.

Commercial cultivation of the cranberry began in the early 1800s on the east coast of the United States.

Cranberry sauce, now considered a must-have for the table with turkey dinner, wasn’t available in a can until 1912. An American lawyer named Marcus L. Urann revolutionized the cranberry industry. He got the idea to buy a cranberry bog and can cranberries. His idea eventually became a cranberry co-operative that would be known around the globe as Ocean Spray.

By 1940, cranberry sauce had become the holiday accompaniment of choice by millions of North Americans.

I’d like to share with you one of my favourite recipes for a classic way to enjoy cranberries.

Spiced cranberry sauce

This sauce is crammed full of seasonal flavours like cinnamon, allspice and citrus. But what takes this side dish to the next level is a little orange liqueur. This homemade cranberry sauce with a kick is a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table.

Prep time: Start to finish, approximately 35 minutes

Yield: 1 3/4 cup (serves about 10 to 14 people)


3 cups fresh cranberries (if fresh are not available, frozen will work as well)

3/4 cup sugar 

1/4 cup water

1 medium orange

1 cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (Cointreau or triple sec can also be used)

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice


Zest the orange for one tablespoon of zest. While zesting, make sure to avoid the bitter white pith under the orange peel. Cut the orange in half and squeeze until you have about 1/4 cup juice.

In a medium sauce pot, add cranberries, sugar, water, freshly squeezed orange juice, and cinnamon stick, then stir. Slowly bring the pot to a simmer uncovered on medium heat and let cook for 15 minutes.

Add orange zest, Grand Marnier, and ground allspice to the pot and continue to slowly simmer uncovered for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the cinnamon stick and transfer to a heat-safe glass container and cool in the refrigerator before serving.

A few notes:

Make ahead — This cranberry sauce can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week in a non-metallic container.

Freezing — You can freeze this recipe for up to three months. When you are ready to use your frozen cranberry sauce, just thaw in the refrigerator. You can also freeze any leftover fresh cranberries; they can freeze for up to 18 months for your next batch of sauce or culinary creation.

I hope you and yours enjoy this dish as much as my family does. And you don’t have to wait for the next turkey to try it. It works just as well with chicken, pork or even on top of a baked brie.

I still get to travel up the Highway 400 extension every now and then for a visit. I’m pleased to learn Muskoka now has its very own cranberry route where you can discover and celebrate this much-loved fruit. From sauce to wine, there’s a lot to experience.

And there is no better time to go and see what’s happening in the bog. This weekend, Bala is set to host its annual Cranberry Festival.

With the fall colours in full effect, this is a great time for a road trip. I hope you and yours all get a chance to discover the beauty in the bog.

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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