Island spirits: Cranberry and Thanksgiving dinner

Ms. Dempsey explored the joy of cranberry this holiday season.

In the grand opera that is the Thanksgiving dinner, one of my favorite players is the unpretentious cranberry. Growing on long vines in sandy marshes, they’re primarily harvested in the Northeast, then millions of pounds of them are turned into jelly cylinders engraved with the grooves of Ocean Spray cans, where they make a command performance once a year on Thanksgiving tables. 

Not renowned for my culinary skills, whole cranberry sauce is one dish I can contribute to the Thanksgiving feast without messing up. I like cooking up the cranberries with sugar and water and adding a touch of orange juice, perhaps, or ground cloves and cinnamon. OK, the year I overdid the cloves, I just had to chuck the whole thing. But I can make my cranberry dish ahead of time, then steer clear of the kitchen, where plenty of good cooks in my family are wielding sharp knives and whipping up a feast for our crowd of about 30. 

In late afternoon, I’ll wander into the little bar in our house that we call Moxie’s Pub. There, brothers and sisters, in-laws, nieces and nephews will trade stories and sample concoctions. Festive cranberry juice will lend its color and flavor to a host of drinks we serve up, from the mocktail cranberry and seltzer with a wedge of lime; to a splash in a vodka and soda; to the Poinsettia that kicks off the holiday festivities. For the last, no more is needed than a flute of champagne or prosecco and the splash of cranberry juice, but a couple of berries in the glass add some eye appeal. 

The juice is also an important ingredient in the Cosmopolitan, added to vodka, Cointreau and lime juice. Searching for other cranberry-laced drinks, I went to the venerable Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Before the Waldorf closed down for major renovations a couple of years ago, my husband and I spent one last night there and bought the Bar Book as a souvenir. The original version, printed in 1934, had many of the classics we associate with our parents’ generation, like Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Champagne Cocktails. The book was updated in 2016, with the original recipes and more modern versions suited to current tastes. 

The Waldorf had several famous bars, including the Bull ‘n’ Bear, and Peacock Alley. The bartender and editor of the book, Frank Caiafa, updated the Cosmopolitan with an eye toward having a signature drink for Peacock Alley, where he took over in 2005. His recipe starts with cranberry-infused vodka, so you may want to start on this now to get ready for the flurry of holiday parties in the weeks ahead.

Cranberry-infused Vodka

Start with 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries. Place in an airtight glass container. Add 32 ounces of vodka. Seal and let it rest for at least one week. Fine-strain and funnel it back into the bottle.  

The Peacock

2 oz. cranberry-infused vodka

1/2 oz. Marie Brizard Apry apricot liqueur

1 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

1/2 egg white

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and dry-shake for 5 seconds. Add ice and shake well. Fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel to release oils, then discard. Sour mix can replace the egg white, lemon juice and syrup. The book recommends garnishing with dried apricot (optional). For a garnish more suited to the holidays, spear two frozen cranberries on a cocktail pick, and loosely wrap with lime zest to serve alongside the frosted glass.

Happy Thanksgiving — and cheers!