Driving across the island, the Nantucket cranberry bogs seem nearly as old as the soil itself. Rutted dirt roads wind through their midst, passing by ponds and heather moors and abandoned glacial till.
But in truth, berry cultivation is a relatively new activity on this seabound sand. In the mid 1800s, as the whaling industry collapsed and with it Nantucket's economy, the settlers turned to swampy land to earn a living offshore.
Before long, 234 acres of bog were turning out berries, developing names like Milestone and Windswept and a careful web of ditches and dikes. The vines have changed hands over the years, but the berries remain the same large, red globes the first cultivators fell in love with.
Today, the Conservation Foundation owns the bogs, managed under the careful guidance of Tom Larrabee with a bit of help from Executive Director Jim Lentowski. Lentowski is a true cranberry lover; in his recipe collection he holds chutneys and ciders, cookies and muffins, and a carefully gelled & molded red berry salad.
But his mother's cranberry crisp recipe, he says, is the best. Combining fresh berries and dough, it appears perhaps more cobbler than crisp, but it is delicious all the same.
(recipe courtesy of Jim Lentowski & the Nantucket Conservation Foundation)
Serves 6 to 8
Spread 2 cups whole, unfrozen cranberries across a well-buttered, shallow, 8-inch round pie dish. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts), and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle this mixture over the cranberries.
In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg with 1/2 cup sugar until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, and 4 tablespoons butter, chopped into small pieces. Beat well and spread batter over cranberries in an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve with ice cream.