Making space

A few days ago was our first BBQ of the year, which means two things.

1. The start of what I like to call meat season, where we consume approximately double the meat we normally do simply because grilled beast is like no other.

2. Time to clean out the freezer.

It's an annual ritual that begins the previous summer, at the height of berry season. That's when I may appear to be enjoying a bowl of blueberries and yogurt, but inwardly I'm panicking about what I'll do come autumn when my supply runs dry.

Conditioned by my parents who have almost an entire chest freezer dedicated to berries—in addition to one dedicated to meat—and still sometimes store overflow at the neighbours', I start bagging and freezing. Strawberries? Blueberries? Raspberries? Doesn't matter. Fill'er up.

Our fridge freezer is pretty tiny and it has these annoying little drawers, which I suspect are meant to impose order on the frigid Wild West that is the average person's freezer. You know, to keep the breadcrumbs from mingling with the chicken breasts before they're ready to debut as chicken strips. Stuff like that. Mine just cramp my flash freezing style. Anyway...

Where we headed here? Right, so I jam every last corner with carefully packaged berries to carry us through the bleak period known as October-April, and then they just sit there. The fact of the matter is, by the time autumn rolls around, I've pretty much had my fill of summer fruit. A tart crunchy apple is starting to sound like a welcome change of pace.

It's usually around February, when I'm trying to find a spot for some leftover chili, that I first rediscover (and usually curse) this treasure trove of frozen fruit. Finishing last summer's berries inevitably becomes this spring's first chore.

The sweeter berries are easy enough to get through with our weekend breakfasts of pancakes and waffles. But sometimes come spring, I find that my hoarding spree stretched to include cranberries. This May, for example, I discovered that I was seduced not once, but twice, by post-Thanksgiving sales of the mouth-puckering red marbles. Two half-full bags leered up at me from freezer drawer no 2., smug in their frosty beds of ice.

Fortunately there's this loaf for just such an attitude. It's a particularly tasty one with crunchy ends, a sweet vanilla scent and stripes of tangy cranberry filling. Nothing mulled or spiced, not a trace of Thanksgiving or Christmas.

After all, who in their right mind is thinking about such things this time of year?

Cranberry-Striped Vanilla Loaf
2 cups cranberries, fresh or thawed
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a loaf pan with parchment paper, and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse the cranberries with 1/2 cup of sugar until finely chopped. Don't purée! Transfer to a sieve and let the juices drain into a bowl while you make the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar until light and fluffy (about 5-8 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in the vanilla.

Mixing on low speed, add the flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing just until incorporated.

Spread one-third of the batter evenly in the loaf pan. Top with half of the drained cranberry mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the sides. Cover completely with another third of batter. Top with the remaining cranberry mixture, once again leaving a 1/2-inch border along the sides. Cover completely with the remaining batter and smooth.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until golden brown and a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes, then flip the loaf out to cool completely before slicing.

Source: Cranberry Coffeecake at, originally published in Gourmet, February 2003.