How to Give Thanks: guest post and lemon cranberry bread recipe

It’s the delivery of the child that marks the life boundary: before and after.

In the explanatory note to a recipe for cranberry-lemon bread, I wrote, in 1999: I’ve been making these little loaves since Ilana was a baby. The recipe appeared in the November 1985 issue of Gourmet when she was 18 months old; it makes five small loaves.

It’s a fine bread, and I often deliver it as an immediately consumable and just-before-the-holiday gift. But you can see how even the smallest detail of life is enfolded into the main idea, the main event: I’ve been making these loaves since Ilana was a baby.

This recipe, along with thirteen others, appears in my homemade booklet, How to Give Thanks: A Book of Thanksgiving Recipes from a Mother to Her Daughters.

My writing pump was primed that year, for in 1999 I started my much-beloved (okay, short-lived and money-devouring) quarterly magazine called DiRT: A Gardening Journal from the Connecticut River Valley.

A stepdaughter married that year and Ilana was beginning to have some interest in the kitchen, so I thought: Now is the time.

I’m sure all of us cooks and gardeners know that feeling — it’s time to make the candied quince; it’s time to prune the roses. But time passes, and opportunities do too. And worse, the fire that fuels these works of our hands and hearts can grow stone cold.

Frenzied weeks followed. I don’t recall how many. But I set a deadline, and that year managed to give these booklets for Christmas. Not only to the three daughters, but to friends as well.

My friend (a graphic artist and a great cook and gardener) Lynn Zimmerman, of Lucky Dog Design, created the cover. Not only designed it but also carved the print out of whatever that softer-that-wood material is. So that pie on the cover of the booklet is literally handmade too.

I set another deadline in the preface to the 1999 edition: This book is a work in progress. The second edition will be forthcoming by October 1, 2000. The recipes have yet to be copy-edited …

I missed that deadline. Not by inattention or laziness, but instead by my amazement at the rooting and subsequent blossoming of the life of that first, imperfect and embarrassingly unedited edition.

I’ve been a writer of house and garden and food journalism for thirty years, more of an essayist now, I suppose. One thing of which I’m certain, though: Every generation of writers, gardeners, and cooks must be educated anew. We practitioners of these arts don’t want to read about the practices of our elders — what’s happening now, we want to know.

But yet, but yet. The deeper we go into our arts, the more we want to know, and that includes the knowledge of generations before us. However, there’s only so much writers, gardeners, and cooks can learn from books, articles, blogs, videos, and so on. The real education is in the doing — rather, in the practicing; it’s in the exquisite art of making mistakes. Then it’s in the finding of the sound and taste and vision that belong only to us.

And how about How to Give Thanks? I was shocked to learn that many of my friends in Massachusetts — then in their forties! — always went their mothers’ houses for Thanksgiving. They had never cooked a turkey!

It just so happens that the strongest part of my cookery booklet is on how to roast a turkey. (A great meat man gave me a tutorial.)

I have no idea how many of these booklets I’ve put together. I’ve given them to young cooks, to mature cooks, and once to a panic-stricken waitress a few days before the holiday.

A dozen went into my favorite bookstore in Los Angeles; one person bought ten.

People have reported that every year they’ve written notes in their copy, to incorporate variations and additions and comments, and have pasted or stuck into the booklet articles with other recipes. So it now documents the holiday for many families. A few full-fledged essays arose from sketches I wrote for the booklet, so it has richly served me, too.

I wonder how many consult it year after year, but I’ll never know.

Now I’m looking at Ilana’s copy. It’s augmented with magazine articles, e-mail correspondence, and a rather elaborate menu from Thanksgiving 2011. I’m impressed.

Paula Panich, writer and printmaker, lives in Los Angeles; more about her is revealed on her website. She is shopping around her as-of-yet unpublished book of food essays, The Cook, the Landlord, the Countess, and Her Lover. A recently-published essay, about marmalade, can be read here.

Editor’s note and recipe:

I’m excited to share my gluten-free version of the lemon-cranberry bread from How to Give Thanks. As Paula noted above, I too have written in my treasured copy. If you’re not gluten-free, just click on the picture to enlarge the image and follow the recipe as written. If you are gluten-free, I’ve typed up my final version of the recipe below.

Lemon-Cranberry Bread Gluten-free

adapted from How to Give Thanks, which was adapted from Gourmet Magazine

yields 15 muffin-sized cakes

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Allow 4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter to soften to room temperature). Grease 15 slots’ worth of a standard size muffin tin (or tins).

2. Combine your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

1 cup white rice flour

1/3 cup millet flour

1/3 cup sweet rice flour

1/3 cup arrowroot starch

2 Tbs oat flour

1-1/2 tsp xanthan gum

OR, sub all of the above for

2 cups gluten-free flour mix (one that doesn’t contain leaveners, baking soda/powder)

then add and whisk to incorporate

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 Tbs baking powder

3. Combine your wet ingredients in a separate bowl, start by creaming softened butter (quantity above) and 1-1/4 cup sugar.

then add and whisk well

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk 

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or Meyer limoncello if you have it!)

  finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)

4. Add wet to dry, and mix to combine so there are no more dry flour-y patches. Add 1 cup fresh or unthawed cranberries, picked over and stir to combine evenly. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin.

5. Bake for 20-30 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick poked into one of the larger cakes comes out clean or with a crumb (no dough). Serve warm or at room temperature with butter, lemon curd, or Meyer lemon marmalade.

Store at room temp, sealed in a parchment bag for up to 3 days or freeze.