Grandma Ottaway's cranberry nut bread

It's not a holiday without ...Cranberry Nut Bread

I was at the gym yesterday trading Thanksgiving menus with Alfredo, the guy at the front desk. His relatives brought everything from pork chops to sausage. He hosted and made turkey, lasagna and rice.

"We had to have rice," he said. "I'm Spanish, it wouldn't be a holiday without rice."

This made me think of Baba. At 94, she doesn't cook anymore. But for years she made a sweet potato concoction that showed up at every holiday because, well, just because. It wasn't a holiday without it.

I'm pretty sure the dish started out as your basic sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. But over the years it morphed into a gloppy blend of orange juice, marshmallows, a dash of discordant spices, and, some where in there, making everything orange, I'm sure there must have been a few sweet potatoes.

This was the dish that every year made its way with great fanfare to the center of the table. Everyone took a big spoonful and for the next hour swirled it around their plates. It fell to my brother, the rail thin human food disposal, to make sure there was a good dent in the pile before the end of the meal.

When my grandmother stopped cooking, we wondered what we should do.

We had never had a holiday celebration without the sweet potatoes. What fun would it be without watching my brother dutifully dive in for thirds? As I recall, we tried for a few years, but never managed to replicate the dish. My version wasn't any tastier, but it also wasn't exciting. Just a lone pile of orange, sitting over in the corner, unloved and untouched. Eventually the dish was retired.

For my husband's family, the must-have holiday dish is cranberry nut bread. Lucky for him it is delicious. And lucky for us, there is a recipe. Here it is. Enjoy.

cranberry nut bread on Thanksgiving

Grandma Ottaway’s Cranberry Nut Bread

2 cups flour (sift twice before measuring)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 beaten egg
Juice and zest of one orange rind
2 Tbs shortening & enough boiling water to make 3/4 cup
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup cranberries, cut in fourths or chopped in food processor

1 greased (but not floured) loaf pan (9x5)


Sift flour and blend with other dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
Add the egg and stir.
Juice and zest the orange. Set the zest aside. Add the juice, shortening and boiling water to make 3/4 cup. Add to the other ingredients and mix.

Add zest, walnuts and cranberries. Mix until they are blended with the batter.

Pour in greased loaf pan.

Bake 325° for 1 hour


I always just mix all the dry ingredients together (I’ve never sifted).

I used to use a box grater to grate the orange rind, then I used a zester for awhile ( I just chopped up the strings a bit, and it was just fine), but this year I discovered the beauty of a microplane, and it came out deliciously that way, too. Then I juice the orange, add the shortening in small chunks, and add boiling water to 3/4 cup.

After that, I lightly beat the egg, and add all the ingredients together, stirring until just combined. Then I add the walnuts and cranberries that I’ve hand-chopped into quarters (I like how the cranberries look better that way than if I use a processor), and stir until combined.

This year, while the bread was cooking, I made a orange glaze by stirring together 1/4 cup of OJ and 3 Tbs sugar. Then, as soon as the bread came out of the oven, I poked it thoroughly with a wooden skewer, then poured the glaze over it. This seemed to keep it moister since I had to make it a day ahead.

That is probably MUCH more than you needed to know, but that’s the scoop!

Funny about this cranberry nut bread. I haven’t been back home for Thanksgiving for 17 years. With all the differences of D's folks’ Thanksgiving (no squash or potatoes, let alone creamed onions!), it was the cranberry nut bread that I decided was the thing that I missed the most. I’ve been bringing it to the feast for just years now, and it has become part of their table.

Okay, so maybe this isn't Baba's sweet potato dish, but boy, have I got a sweet potato dish for you. It's been a fixture on my Thanksgiving table for years. You may even have tasted it, I can't be sure.

Bourbon sweet potato puree with buttered pecans (because I don't like marshmallows with my sweet potatoes). Here's the recipe:

Everybody loves it (except maybe those who hanker after marshmallows with their sweet potatoes).

And I'm gonna have to add that cranberry nut bread . . .

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