A Tart Native American Taste of Cape Cod

cranberries - doneCranberries, the tart, red fruits essential to Thanksgiving feasts, grew on Cape Cod long before Americans turned them into a sugary accompaniment to turkey. The Wampanoag Native American people called the berries sassamenesh and used them as dyes. They also crushed them as part of pemmican, an early type of energy bar that fueled hunters, and was then adapted by European fur traders and Arctic explorers.

I thought of making pemmican, but the recipes I found seemed fairly daunting for a city-dweller. They call for dried meat (preferably deer, moose, caribou, or bison) mixed with melted fat and crushed berries. I decided to look for an easier and more modern use of cranberries among Native Americans.

cranberries plainMy search led me to the Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook by
Earl Mills Sr., also known as Chief Flying Eagle of the Mashpee Wampanoags, and Betty Breen, published in 2001. Mills opened The Flume restaurant in Mashpee on Cape Cod in 1972, and many of the recipes come from his time there (the restaurant was sold in 2004 and later closed). The book describes the cranberry harvest as a community event. Schools dismissed students early so they could help, and Mills’s parents and grandparents also participated.

I tried a cranberry recipe called Goodin’ Puddin’ that Mills describes as a longtime favorite. There is also a pie variation. The Puddin’ was somewhat sticky (I will use more butter in the bottom of the pan next time) but it’s hard to resist the simple combination of sugar, butter, cranberries, and nuts. Given some of the ingredients, the recipe does not date back to pre-Colonial times, but it does reflect the modern sensibilities of a Native American chef on Cape Cod.

cranberries - batterGoodin’ Puddin’
Serves 4-6
2 teaspoons [or even more to keep the batter from sticking to the pan] cooking oil or butter
1 cup cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup nuts [I used pecans], coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1 egg
1/2 cup flour

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Use the oil or butter to grease the bottom of an 8-by-4-by-4-inch loaf pan.
  3. Add the cranberries, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the nuts to the loaf pan. Lightly stir to combine.
  4. In a bowl, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, melted butter and egg until smooth. Fold in the flour and pour over the berries. [The batter will be thick and not fully cover the berries – I placed scoops of it around the top of the berries like biscuit dough on top of a cobbler].
  5. Bake 45 minutes or until lightly brown on top. [The batter spreads as it bakes to completely cover the berries].

Pie Variation: Double the recipe and bake in a deep-dish pie plate for 6-8 servings.

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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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