Do you ever feel like you are an apple trapped inside a cranberry? Or like a cranberry trapped inside an apple? Or maybe you feel like a cran-apple (or, as auto correct would insinuate, like a crabapple)?
Thanksgiving can be a tough time for U.S. fruits like us (transgender, butch, queer, or otherwise gender nonconforming). The ramp up to the holidays is packed full of images of heteronormative families in joyous and loving celebration. The women are working in the kitchen, the men are in the den watching football, and a well-behaved dog is peacefully snoozing by the fireplace. It is a constant reminder of how I don’t fit in, and why I don’t want to fit it. And that I am estranged from my birth family. It ended with Thanksgiving.
When Donna and I started our relationship, my mother would not invite her over. She was trying to keep my grandmother from “knowing.” We were supposed to be one small normal happy family. The main source of happiness in my life was, and still is, Donna. Back then, I didn’t have a dog, but my mother would not have allowed me to bring the dog either.
I wouldn’t go to Thanksgiving without Donna. I hoped my refusal would pressure my mother into coughing up an invitation. It didn’t. We table hopped for a few years, but I wouldn’t go home. When Donna and I moved in together we decided to make Thanksgiving dinner in our home. We invited some friends over. Twenty years later, we are still cooking for the same crowd. My grandmother and my mother are both dead; stacked one on top of the other in a mausoleum in Westchester.
I spend a lot of time in November thinking about the meal. Donna and I collaborate (negotiate) on which dishes to rotate in or out. We each have our favorites; it is too much work and too much food on the table to make all of them each year. But there are always two cranberry sauces. Donna likes the traditional sauce, and I like one that is all mixed up and savory. There is no acceptable compromise.
I used to make a different savory sauce each year. A cranberry chutney with fresh and candied ginger, onion raisin cranberry confit, a cranberry salsa with cilantro and poblano peppers. Two years ago I sampled a spiced cranberry apple sauce at the Greenmarket and thought “I could reproduce this.” It took three tries to get it right, but it was good. So good that It found its place in the Thanksgiving canon, and can not be swapped out.
This year the experimentation has shifted to the “onion dish”. November means trying out some new recipes (sweet and sour onions) and tweaking old ones (jeweled roast vegetables). The dishes must be able to be made ahead of time and taste good served at room temperature or reheated with everything else after the turkey comes out of the oven. I’ve still got a week left to play.
Because I write about what is on my mind, I offer you these two recipes. Cis Cranberry Sauce for Donna, and Trans Cranberry-Apple Sauce for me. If you have never made cranberry sauce at home, it is super easy, and way better than what you get in a can.
Cis Cranberry Sauce:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 bag (12 ounces) cranberries, picked over and rinsed (remove any that are soft and squishy).
- Grated zest of one small orange (if you have a Microplane grater use it, otherwise use a box grater and try not to grate any of the white pith).
In a three quart saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Add the cranberries.
Bring back to a boil, boil for a minute, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the berries have stopped “popping” and the mixture thickens.
Turn off the heat, add the orange zest, and stir to incorporate.
Let rest for a couple of minutes, and then transfer to a storage container.
Makes about 2 cups.
Trans Cranberry-Apple Sauce:
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 bag (12 ounces or 3 cups) cranberries. Picked over and rinsed (remove any that are soft and squishy).
- 3 cups chopped apples – apples chopped roughly to the size of the cranberries. I use Macintosh but you could use Windows.
- 1/4 cup currants (OK to substitue raisins)
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (OK to substitue wine vinegar)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (add more while it cooks if you want it spicier – Donna is a spice wimp).
In a large saucepan or dutch oven, bring the water and sugar to a boil.
Add all the other ingredients and bring back to a boil. Boil for a minute.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Adjust salt and red pepper to taste.
Let rest for a few minutes and transfer to a storage container.
Makes about 4 cups.
I scheduled my top surgery for after Thanksgiving so that I could shop, cook, and clean for the holiday. I am thankful that I am able to do both, and thankful to Donna for being here with me.
Notes: I was looking for an article on the history of how “fruit” became slang for gay. Instead, I turned up this bizarre clip from the CBC on how the Mounties tried to use a “fruit machine” to identify gay men during the early 1960’s.