It’s a commonly held belief that taste and smell are the senses most closely tied to memory. The smell of highbush cranberries is unmistakable — pungent and musky. I love it. It’s the smell of the return of early evening twilight and crisp September days.
In a land of evergreen spruce, hemlock and cedar, the beautiful gold and maroon of high-bush cranberry shrubs as they turn each fall is a breath of fresh air. We had a highbush cranberry shrub in our front yard growing up, but these days I pick them along the edges of muskegs. It’s best to wait until after the first frost so the berries can sweeten a little, although you don’t want to wait too late in the season otherwise they’ll get a little mushy. The berries are translucent when ripe and grow in easy-to-pick clusters.
Growing up, my mom always made the cooperative extension’s “highbush cranberry ketchup” although I think it’s a little closer in style to a barbecue sauce than ketchup. It’s a staple in our kitchen and is especially good paired with salmon or venison. The strong distinctive flavor of highbush cranberries stands up well to game meat and other strong savory dishes.
These are not your grandma’s baked beans: the highbush cranberry ketchup gives them depth, the chipotle some heat, and the smoked porter a little tang. You can use any porter or stout, but I like using Alaskan Smoked Porter, which is especially nice to use if you want some of that smokiness when you’re not using bacon, which I tend to leave out if I’m making beans for a potluck. Of course, bacon does truly make everything more delicious, so if you’re not trying to keep the beans vegan or pork-free, fry up five or six slices before the onion, dice, and then mix in with the sauce and beans before baking.
Spicy Baked Beans with Highbush Cranberry
Time: 30 minutes active, 2.5 hours total
• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 large onion
• 1 ½ cups highbush cranberry ketchup (Cooperative extension recipe) – you can barbecue sauce
• ¾ cup Alaskan Smoked Porter – or any porter or stout
• 3 tbsp dijon mustard
• 3 tbsp brown sugar
• 2 tbsp molasses
• 2 tbsp Worchester sauce
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1-2 tbsp canned chipotle peppers, diced
• 5 cans Great Northern beans
• ¼ cup parsley, diced
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Saute onion in the oil over medium heat until just cooked. Whisk together the onion, cranberry ketchup, porter, mustard, sugar, Worchester, soy sauce, and chipotle peppers. For the peppers, keep the seeds if you’d like to keep it spicy, remove the seeds for medium, and leave out the chipotle for mild.
Combine the sauce with the beans in a 13-by-9 pan and bake until sauce is no longer soupy, about two hours.
Remove from the oven, mix in parsley and serve.
• Erin Anais Heist is a food blogger in Juneau. Readers can contact her at foodabe.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @erinanais. “Eating Wild” recipes publish every other week.