Photographed by Birney Imes.

Food for the Soul

Story & Photographs Birney Imes

Several years ago, just before Thanksgiving, one of my children and I happened to be driving through Oregon.

Late in the day, maybe it was early evening, we happened upon a state park that had not only campsites, but rented yurts. It had been raining all day and the evening promised more of the same. We went with the yurt — a good thing since it thundered and rained all night.

The next morning we made for a nearby town where we found a local coffee house. I don’t remember much about the town or the coffeehouse, but on the way out the door one of us bought a large Ziploc bag of fresh cranberries.

Why they were selling cranberries in a coffee house (or why we bought them) I can’t say. The day before we had driven past reddish bogs. This was cranberry country, and it was harvest season.

Tart little things they were, too; they proved to be a great pick-me-up for a driver trying to stay awake. Eyelids getting heavy, throw down a couple of cranberries, and you’re good for another 50 miles.

I remember all this because at the California border, we were asked if we were carrying any agricultural products. As I was saying no, I remembered the half-eaten bag of cranberries. Rather than complicate things, I let my “no” stand, and the border guard waved us through.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

This is all to say if you’re looking for fresh cranberries and it’s not late November, December or early January, you may be in trouble. Put another way, if you’re going to make Valeda Carmichael’s acclaimed cranberry salsa any time but the holidays, you might want to think again.

Carmichael owns Culin-Arts, a lively hodgepodge of kitchen wares and local art jammed into two storefronts on Commerce Street in downtown West Point. A third space features an event venue built around a kitchen.

As former food stylist and product development specialist for Bryan Foods, Carmichael was paid to tinker around in the kitchen. She’s never stopped.

“I read cookbooks like most people read novels,” she said.

And, rare is the recipe she doesn’t think she can make better.

Carmichael doesn’t remember which of her 300 cookbooks she happened to be reading when she stumbled across the cranberry salsa. The holiday season was approaching; it sounded different and she thought, why not?

The salsa has proved to be a versatile concoction.

She has served it as a side dish with a turkey sandwich, topped a pound cake with it; served it over cream cheese with ginger snaps and daubed it on a sliver of smoked salmon on crostini.

Oh, yeah, and it works just fine as a salsa with chips.


4-5 cups fresh cranberries
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and thick sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced into 1-inch pieces
½  red onion, cut into wedges
1-2 jalapeños, seeded and deveined
Zest and juice of 2 limes
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 cup sugar

• Place cranberries in food processor and pulse five to seven times. Pour cranberries from food processor into mixing bowl.
• Place ginger root, celery, red onion and jalapeño(s) in food processor and pulse to finely chop all ingredients.
• Pour into mixing bowl with cranberries. Add zests, juices and sugar. Stir to mix well.

NOTE: This can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for up to two months (I’ve kept it even longer and it was fine). I always make it several days in advance before serving as it gets better the longer it sits.