Cranberry Blog

23 11 2009

Tart and unassuming the humble cranberry will once again take second seat to many Thanksgiving turkeys this year, but they have certainly earned a spot at every American Thanksgiving table, and to omit them from this harvest celebration would be extremely unconventional.  I had a chance to learn a bit more about our favorite seasonal side dish firsthand at a talk at Nantucket’s Whaling Museum in Fall 2008 given by second generation cranberry farmer Tom Larrabee Jr.  His father has worked in Nantucket’s bogs since he was a teenager and has managed them since 1959.

Cranberries were first harvested in Dennis, Massachusetts (Cape Cod) in 1816 by Henry Hall.  Named for the resemblance of its flowers to the head of a crane, early producers discovered that the vine, closely related to the blueberry, was an ideal mate for the Massachusetts geography.  Their presence at the Thanksgiving meal is likely due to the fact that this was also a symbol of peace to Native Americans.  Cranberries enjoy peat bogs which provide moisture for the vines during the growing season, but they also benefit from covering the vines with sand.  Sand stimulates new growth of the roots, controls insects and prevents the disintegrating peat from being toxic to the plant.  The third requirement is fresh water for frost protection, irrigation and since the 1980’s harvesting.  As a result in 1857 settlers of Nantucket Island, 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, decided that planting cranberries on the peat marshes off of Milestone Road would be a good idea.  Cranberries had already garnered a great reputation for seafarers as their presence on ships prevented sailors from getting scurvy due to their high content of Vitamin C.  Cranberries still have these wonderful health benefits and in addition an incredible amount of antioxidants and an antiseptic nature that allows them to be useful to prevent bladder infections and eradicate E. Coli.

From that moment, the cranberry and Nantucket seemed a perfect pair.  Despite the fact that Nantucket produces much less than Wisconsin (the largest U.S. producer), those that know the island think of it as a hub of production.  Currently Nantucket has about 250 acres of cranberry bogs and 25 of the 37 acres in the Windswept Bog are organically grown producing 1/2 a million pounds of organic cranberries in 2008.  Production of organic berries typically yields 60-70% less than conventional production and takes a lot more effort, but organic berries garner three times the price of conventional berries.  Since 1968 the Nantucket Conservation Foundation has stewarded the island’s two commercial bogs.

Cranberry harvest begins in September with Early Black, dark blackish red berries, and continues through October and November with the Howes cranberry, a lighter red and more oblong shaped berry.  Because of the floating nature of the berries, flood harvesting has been the preferred method since the 1980s, and has become a familiar site to most of us from Ocean Spray commercials.  One of the challenges for cranberry production on island is coordinating picking schedules with the ferry boat schedule as processing of berries is off-island which should ideally be three to five days before freezing.  Another crucial ingredient for successful cranberry production remains bees.  The flowers at bloom produce very heavy pollen that prevents vines from self-pollination by wind, so 432 hives are brought in to do the deed.  These bees pollinate Maine’s blueberries in May and then head to Nantucket for prime time at the end of June through July.  The bees are late risers and active from about 10am until 5 or 6pm, and while they are busy at work farmers stay out of the bogs until berry set.  Bees arrive on one truck but leave the island on two trucks after their plentiful pollen eating and even provide another great local product, Nantucket cranberry honey.  Berries turn green then white and finally blush to red close to harvest time.

Cranberries are useful for more than sauce, and a suggestion from Tom is to keep the berries frozen when you use them in baking to allow them to better keep their shape.

My favorite sandwich from Nantucket takes advantage of the cranberry history and is perfect for Thanksgiving left-overs, it’s called the “Turkey Terrific” produced by Provisions 3 Harbor Square Nantucket 508 228-3258.  While Provisions is closed for the winter you can make it at home, use a good roll, sliced turkey, left over stuffing and a good slathering of cranberry sauce.  And if you are at my house you would have to fight over using sauce versus the gelatinous canned cranberry jelly, my husband prefers the latter, so we always serve both.

See Tom Larrabee Jr. and the harvest at

Nantucket Off Season

20 11 2009

bclosedI lived on Nantucket for two full summers, the last of which I stayed well into the fall.  I loved Nantucket in the fall, the golden leaves, the quiet beaches, the subdued nature of town.  But with the fall came perils, for example, almost daily I’d need to run down to the ferry to say goodbye to yet another comrade headed off island for the winter.  Restaurants grew slim as they pared down their hours, and worst of all I had to stop ordering Guinness.  It just took too long to pour and settle and soon I’d often find myself surrounded by a crowd of lusty but otherwise harmless scallopers.

I guess those fond memories inspired me to retreat once again to Nantucket in the fall.  Some folks we encountered were confused as to why we would want to visit when then weather was turning cold and grey, but it was sublime.

Nantucket is an island about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachussetts.  Known for a lucrative whaling industry, today the island remains a proud testament to tradition.  It’s cobblestone streets are mostly unchanged, and save for a Cumberland Farms and a Ralph Lauren outpost, most chain stores are shunned.  No stop lights and staunch dedication towards a traditional architecture means that most buildings look identical in their weathered grey shingles.  Nantucket looks pretty much like it did back in the day.  During the peak season (July and August) the town swells with visitors, but quickly the summer crowds and workers dissipate allowing one to appreciate a pristine and windswept vista in the late fall.  While late October can supply some pleasant Indian summer type days, by November the island gets colder and damper, but more serene.  Beach days become blustery rather than sunny.  Town is mostly shut down, few restaurants are open and those that are have limited hours, often seemingly determined by the whim of the owner on any given day.  Stores are open sporadically but the upside is the incredible sales, it seems the whole island is a bargain with room rates plunging and most retailers offering 20% on current issue items, but 50-75% on summer wares.

My husband and I headed out to the island by plane, a quicker and easier ride than the ferry since we flew east into Boston.  Off season can mean discounted rooms and a few of the larger hotels are really peaceful during this season.  The White Elephant is a quick but chilly walk to town near Brant Point.  Additionally they have just started renting their gorgeous White Elephant Hotel Residences which are available through December 6, 2009.  These are multi room apartments are outfitted beautifully and offer amenities including remote controlled fireplaces, kitchens with panini makers, wine cellars, amazing bathtubs, blue-ray, pretty much everything you need to enjoy Nantucket as if you lived there, also right in the heart of town.  Their Brant Point Grill stays open for most of the fall season and offers great food, but be sure to check exact dates.

Nantucket Christmas Stroll is another great time to visit but room rates bump up a bit due to the increased visitors.  It’s dreamy walking the streets decked out for the holidays and makes you think you have stepped back in time.  This year Christmas Stroll is scheduled for December 4 and 5, 2009.

Overall the island is always an amazing place to visit, but if you want to maximize your dollar and enjoy it without the mass of summer visitors and day-trippers then off-season is the way to go.

White Elephant Hotel Residences

View from The White Elephant

American Season’s Restaurant

80 Centre Street: Amazing.  The food is amazing.  I do not know what else to say!  The seasonal menu changes often and is uniquely not divided by appetizer/entree but rather by region into Pacific Coast, New England and Down South featuring dishes inspired by each region.  Lots of game and they also offer specials, and if the charcuterie is an option when you go do not miss it.

Black-Eyed Susan’s

10 India Street: This small diner style spot offers some of the most amazing breakfast dishes.  I was incredibly fond of Susan’s grits, a small dish arrives making you wonder if it will be enough but the delectable combination of grits, ranchero sauce, cheese and hollandaise is just right, rich and delicious.  The Portuguese scramble with spinach, garlic and linguica is also a winner, hearty and delicious.  They are open for dinner too!

Easy Street Restaurant

Easy Street & Steamboat Wharf:  In all the years I visited Nantucket, it was not until this year that I stepped foot inside Easy Street Restaurant.  It always seemed a shame that such a convenient location had what was reputed to be sub-average food, but things have changed!  New ownership brings great food to a comfortable and convenient location.  We skipped the Lobster Trap this trip for a more reasonable New England Lobster Boil here.  For $20 you get a 1 and 1/4 lb. lobster, perfectly steamed, with drawn butter, Yukon gold potatoes and corn on the cob.  Wash it down with one of their selection of Oktoberfest beers and it’s heavenly.  Also do not miss the chowder, one of the best we had, as well as the  ridiculously priced 50 cent chicken wings.  I was frightened by the price but had to try them and they were deliciously crispy and seasoned well, quite a bargain really!

downeyDowney Flake

18 Sparks Avenue: If you want to see where the locals eat stop by the Downey Flake for a donut, breakfast and some coffee.  Owned by my friends and former managers from the Brotherhood of Thieves back in the day, Mark Hogan and Susan Tate offer truly reasonable fare at a great price.  The diner atmosphere is kitschy but its worth a trip and you can eavesdrop on how the scallop harvest is going.

LO LA 41

15 Beach Street:  The longitude/latitude coordinates of Nantucket this hot spot makes you feel as if you could be in SoHo.  Offering great Asian inspired food and a huge selection of sake and wine by the glass the atmosphere is chic without being pretentious.

The Brotherhood of Thieves

23 Broad Street:  Although its not the same as I remember it, a visit to the island would not be complete without visiting the Brotherhood.  Although the food is lackluster, the curly fries are still good.  Similarly lacking is the extensive frozen drink selection I remember, but have a seat at the bar, grab a chowder and some fries and a beer and enjoy the dark wood and comfortable cozy atmosphere on a cold day.

Things to Do

Whaling Museum

A trip to Nantucket would not be complete without a trip to the Whaling Museum.  The forty-six foot skeleton of a sperm whale washed ashore on island on New Year’s Day and the gorgeous 1849 Fresnel Lens from the Sankaty Head Lighthouse are worth the visit alone.  Off season expect fun informative talks on topics such as the cranberry harvest presented by island locals.  They have a great gift shop too.

Drive out to Great Point

Rent a four wheel drive vehicle with an Oversand Vehicle Permit, deflate your tires and drive through the sand onto Great Point.  Off season you may see some locals fishing, or you may not see anyone the whole time.  We saw deer and a pod of about 30 seals dining at the rip of the point.  They peered over at us curiously and bobbed around in the water.

Visit Nantucket Vineyard, Triple Eight Distillery and Cisco Brewers

Sadly we heard that Cisco Brewers moved most of their brewing off island due to increased demand (always the dilemma, so successful that they cannot do it locally anymore), but that doesn’t make their beer less good.  A visit to the distillery/brewery/winery is always fun with sampling and tasting and sale of all their products.  Try to get some Pumple Drunkin Spiced Ale while it lasts, but for everyday I love the Whale’s Tale Pale Ale.


Nantucket Natural Oils (The Fragrance Bar)

5 Centre Street:  Maybe it is because I am a wine geek obsessed with the sense of smell, but I can’t help but gravitate immediately to Nantucket Natural Oils when I hit the island.  John Harding, the proprietor, crafts fragrances to rival those of the major perfume houses, but this is no infomercial “If you like Giorgio you’ll love X” type of place.  What is most special about the spot is the fact that all the products are made from 100% pure oil, rather than diluted with 80-94% alcohol and water like normal scents.  This means that they last longer on your skin AND in the bottle.  It is also a godsend for those that have encountered allergic reactions or professions where fragrance is shunned.  While I would refrain from wearing this to a wine tasting, Harding has first hand knowledge that nurses can even wear these essences without negatively affecting the hospital environment.  I know first hand that these oils do last.  I had a perfume made by Harding in Spring of 1995 which I wore all the time, I still had a half vial left when I inadvertently left the cap off and it seeped into my makeup pouch.  Luckily Harding has a system that remembers  each and every purchase so he was able to recreate this mix of Calyx with an addition of vanilla for me, now appropriately named Spring of ’95.  Whether it is for a custom blend or for a designer fragrance or aromatherapy mix this shop is not to be missed. Harding and his expert staff are happy to let you sample and smell to your heart’s content.  This year I bought some ambergris, an aromatic that comes from the regurgitant of whales after it has festered for years on the open ocean.  How appropriate for Nantucket right?  If you can’t make it to Nantucket you can find them online too!  Until November 20, 2009 they are having a buy one get one half off sale on fragrances, so buy some for yourself and a friend for the holidays.

Nantucket Bookworks

25 Broad Street: Borders and Barnes & Noble got you down?  This is the perfect remedy.  The Bookworks offers a great selection, great staff recommendations and even a pile of free books sometimes!  They also have a great selection of paper goods, toys, and tchotchkes.  Open seven days a week year round and often open as late as 10pm!  Great place to shop after your beer at the Broho (Brotherhood) nextdoor

Cold Noses

Straight Wharf: A great spot to pick up a squeaky lobster for your furry friend.

Best of the Beach

Straight Wharf: Feels like summer all year long in this bright and airy shop featuring great pajamas, pretty housewares and aromatic candles.

Vis a Vis

34 Main Street: A very nice clothing boutique although not for the weak of wallet

The Hub

31 Main Street: A magazine and candy shop that also features gifts and postcards, the sign outside is where islanders share information about day to day activities.  Here’s where to find a winter rental, babysitter, carpenter, etc.

Nantucket Looms

16 Federal Street: Handcrafted items galore, gorgeous hooked rugs and weavings.

Nantucket Carving & Folk Art

167 Orange Street: Quarterboards, signs and amazing antiques out near the airport

The Sunken Ship

12 Broad Street: Although this corner is slightly desolate when the season is over and the Juice Bar is shuttered, the Sunken Ship is still a treasure trove for typical souvenirs, toys, and flags.   Always fun to browse.


1N Beach Street: Especially if you need to stock up your White Elephant Residences fridge you can drop into this cute shop only half a block away to see what they have available.  Selections are diverse and fun and reasonably priced.  You might find Amber Cantella holding free wine tastings at local restaurants like the Boarding House so you can try before you buy!

Murray’s Toggery Shop

62 Main Street: The classic stop to buy Nantucket Reds paraphernalia.  “Reds” are a type of denim like fabric dyed a particular pink shade that fades to a gorgeous coral color and soft texture when washed multiple times.  Or of course the prepster in you may opt for the lobster pants.

Nobby Clothes Shop

17 Main Street: Need foul weather gear?  If there’s a Nor’easter on the way this is the place to go.  A great collection of Carhartt gear and everything you need to look like a scalloper.

Current Vintage Clothing Wine Home

4 Easy Street: If your significant other is sick of you shopping for clothes then come here and they can shop for wine at the same time.  They have an amazing selection of lesser known cult wines including Scholium Project!  Pretty cool to see that someone here knows what they’re doing.

Shipments of Fools

4 11 2009

I have been doing quite a few wine reviews lately which, of course, is really fun.  Wine shows up at my door in shippers from around the state of California, usually (and rightfully) requiring an adult signature for delivery.  This requirement can be a slight hassle because that means that the samples need to be signed for and received while we are at home, and considering my hectic schedule and lack of any staff that is challenging sometimes.  But the worst that can happen is that the shipment heads off to the UPS or Fedex warehouse and I have to retrieve it.  No big deal to me since that means my neighbors aren’t drinking it!

That said, I have been noticing that the more samples I receive the more irritated I get.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having wine to taste show up at my doorstep, but you have to understand that I just don’t pop open these bottles that arrive for sampling, instead I need to evaluate them critically, it’s just the right thing to do.  I cannot just open them for a night in front of the fire or give them away to a friend hoping to taste them at their dinner party.  They must be opened and tasted professionally, even if I go ahead and finish the remaining wine later on, and that only happens in rare occasions.  This may again seem like a silly “problem” to have, but all of a sudden you find that as a writer you end up on these lists receiving wines that you have not requested and are not necessarily your priority at that moment.  Because I do not write a focused wine review I gladly accept samples but I cannot assure the sender that their wine will ever be written up.  Its not really the wine that is the problem though, but its the whole issue of shipping.

As the wines roll in, the issues arise.  Opening, unpacking, removing my name from the boxes, stacking them who knows where.  Most of the wines shipped today are packed in styrofoam packaging.  While there are producers that use pressed recycled cardboard, which I really appreciate, there are still many that continue to use styrofoam.  Not only does this create larger shippers that cannot be broken down, but it also tends to break up during shipping, and upon opening the package I am attacked by tiny styrofoam balls that stick to my clothing, my hair and my terriers.  It’s bad for the environment and not fun at all.  I give these containers away, luckily, to friends or our local shipping store (they also willingly take peanuts and bubble wrap).  Unfortunately those friends and folks at those stores ship the boxes to other places where they are likely to become landfill.   I highly recommend that if you have these types of containers that you try to reuse them as much as you can, or ask wineries you work with to use reclaimed cardboard and molded paper boxes and inserts.  Some say they are recyclable, but that still means they need to make it into the right recyclable heap, and not blow down the street in the process.

Another environmental issue that has been irking me is heavy bottles.  Recently during a review I was struck by a couple of ridiculously heavy bottles, we are talking FOUR pound bottles (full).  Some of these came from producers that “claim” to be environmentally sensitive.  I weighed a “normal” bottle, the Heitz Trailside Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Napa Valley and on my simple little bathroom scale it seemed about two pounds.  Now perhaps you may say that Heitz is “old school” and traditional in packaging, yet this seems like a reasonable alternative with the cost of fossil fuels and shipping today.  Bottles of this shape, height and weight have for more than centuries been able to withstand age, movement, dropping, even sitting at the bottom of the ocean.  My point is that the only reason to change your bottle to a heavier, taller, larger punted (the indentation on the bottom of the bottle) bottle is to increase the perception of quality.  While I understand that the reality is that consumer take interest in the packaging, I do not know how companies can truly justify the additional expense (which is then passed on to the consumer) and the effect this decision has on their energy profile.  This disconnect between the marketing and production in a winery has never ceased to amaze me.

The four pound bottle I tasted recently was from producers claiming to be sustainable or organically farmed.  So their vineyard manager is trying to closely manage how many passes they make through the vineyard on their tractor to manage their fossil fuel use, but they are adding basically doubling the weight of every case they ship, whether it is from Napa to SF or Sonoma to China.  I truly hope that producers will take a step back and reevaluate the importance of the “sexy” bottle.  Just think about the poor sommeliers that have to wield that heavy monster both alone and when moving full cases.  Most of these heavyweights are “cult” wines sold in six pack cases, increasing the amount of cardboard used, oh and the cardboard has to be thicker to support the added weight of the bottles.  Don’t get me started on the wooden cases, although I do have a penchant for saving those.  Saint-Gobin Containers Saint-Gobin is working hard to offer low weight bottles yet in the same classic bottle shapes in their ECO Series sold by Caliber WinePak.  Many of them do away with the punt thus using less glass and these bottles require less energy to produce, and less energy to ship both empty or full.  Wine Business Monthly has a great article on the issue  And a shout out to those branching out into boxes, plastic, and alternative packaging.  They may have some stigma yet to overcome, but they are doing the right thing.

Since I am getting all snippy, lets talk about alcohol levels of wines.  I have been more cognizant of them lately as I have become all too familiar with drinking too much of a really delicious yet deadly wine in terms of alcohol.  I understand the whole ripeness/flavor issue, sure, so that is a conversation for another day, but what is super irritating is the mere act of trying to find the alcohol percentage on the bottle.  While this is not always an accurate measurement of the actual alcohol in the bottle, it helps the consumer.  Despite that fact wineries have become very adept at hiding these numbers in weird foils, subtle colors and miniscule prints.  Yesterday as I tasted the Heitz Trailside I was so happy to see that the alcohol level on the was immediately evident, or at least for a “normal” person.  It was directly in the center of the label and good sized print, but there I was searching in all the sneaky places I am used to finding the alcohol listed, the back label, edges of the front, etc.  Heitz gets a gold star today!

Well, that’s enough for now.  I have to go and rearrange my collection of styrofoam shippers.