Peter’s Favorite Holiday Cocktail : Cranberry-Tinis

  • Spending as much time on Nantucket as I do, it’s hard not to be a huge fan of cranberries. Interestingly enough, cranberries have been grown on Nantucket since 1857 and were an important part of the island’s economy until just prior to World War II.  The cranberry, named such because its pink blossoms resemble the head of a crane, was first used by Native Americans, who discovered the wild berry’s versatility as a food, fabric dye and healing agent. The tart red berries were first cultivated on Cape Cod in 1816, where wild cranberries seemed to thrive and American farmers needed a consistent crop to plant. You see, cranberries are truly unique in that they can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate supply of fresh water, lots of sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November.  That growing season must include long months of dormancy when the brutally cold winter months provide an extended chilling period necessary for the fruiting buds to mature.

    Cranberry-tini Peter Callahan Bite by Bite Holiday Cocktails Thanksgiving

    Although we see it on television often enough, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they grow on vines in impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds, commonly known as “bogs,” were originally made by glacial deposits. Cranberries are actually harvested using water as the center of the cranberry fruit is hollow, so they’re shaken off the vine and easily float up for fast collection. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.

    On Nantucket, cranberries are generally harvested from September through November, just in time for the holidays! My absolute favorite kind of cranberry juice is fresh-pressed, not the store-bought concentrated versions. That’s a strong lobby, but once you have fresh-pressed cranberry juice you just can’t go back to concentrate. Sorry, man. It’s like going from fresh squeezed orange juice to Sunny Delight.

    During the holiday season I tend to favor cocktails that take advantage of locally-grown or seasonal ingredients that tell a story, and what better story exists than that of the cranberry?

    Here’s my recipe for a Cranberry-tini.  Enjoy!


    • Grated zest and juice of 6 oranges
    • 5 cups of fresh cranberries
    • 1/2 cup of sugar
    • 3 cups of chilled vodka
    • Lots of ice
    • 2 cups of sparkling water

    Place the orange zest and juice, as well as 4 cups of the cranberries, the sugar, and 3 3/4 cups water in a food processor or blender, and puree.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large pitcher.  Stir in the vodka.  Thread the remaining cranberries on twelve cocktail swizzle sticks, 3 whole cranberries per swizzle.  Fill 12 of your favorite glasses with ice, and divide the cranberry mixture among the glasses, leaving enough room for a splash of sparkling water.  Just before you serve, add the splash of sparkling water and cranberry swizzles.


    The cranberry mixture (sans vodka) can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The swizzle sticks can be made 1 day in advance but store them covered with water in the fridge.


    {photo: Con Poulos}



    November 24th, 2011

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