In my family, we have an unwavering Thanksgiving menu, with very little to no variation from one year to the next. We are Thanksgiving purists, strict literalists of the Turkey Day canon: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes. We never bow to the fickle winds of fashion; there are no trendy updates of old favorites, no wacky frying of turkeys in the garage, no sous vide anything. (Christmas, though, is a whole different story. I’ll share with you the adventures in turducken and glögg another time, but my mother might like me to point out that any culpability for these holiday experiments rests solely with my father.)
Why we couldn’t forget the tired old fruit cocktail just once, I’ll never know, but traditions die slow deaths with my people. (We finally dispensed with my great-grandmother’s customary Waldorf salad but continue to serve the mashed turnips that nobody likes because they were my grandfather’s favorite. Which is really lovely in a way, but the man died over twenty years ago.)
Despite the steady sameness of our menu, somehow the cranberry sauce is always an afterthought. To wit: for three years running, my mother purchased jarred sauce and forgot to put it on the table. (This has always felt suspiciously purposeful to me, considering my mother has the dining room table set a full two weeks ahead of the holiday and the silver is polished and ready for action shortly after Halloween. Entertaining is Susie’s time to shine and the woman is organized.)
Maybe nobody remembers the cranberry sauce? The canned stuff is often weirdly sweet and forgettable, so I wouldn’t be surprised. However, if you’ve got about ten minutes (who doesn’t?), an orange and a bag of cranberries, you’re halfway to this super-easy, homemade sauce that’s totally worth the (incredibly limited) effort. It’s brightly tart with spicy-sweet notes of nutmeg and cinnamon and just enough brown sugar to soften the puckery edge of the fruit. Make it tonight and it will keep for about a month in the fridge. (Just think of all those weekend-after turkey sandwiches, slathered with the ruby-red cranberry goodness you’ve made!)
I’ve included brief canning instructions, if you’re already into that sort of thing, and if you’re new to it and feeling adventurous, most home canning kits (check your local hardware store) will come with a handy guide to show you the way (and how to avoid botulism). And with put-up cranberry preserves in our pantries, we’ll be all set for the next holiday when we’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce. Again.
So here’s to a happy holiday season, to glögg and mashed turnips, and to family. To the people we love, the ones who drive us crazy, who insist on fruit cocktail because that’s how we always do it, who take care of us and make us what we are. Here’s to health and roofs over heads, to good food shared in gratitude. And here’s to you dearhearts out there reading. Thanks so much for stopping by. Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!
Simple Spiced Cranberry Sauce
canning notes adapted from Linda J. Amendt’s Blue Ribbon Preserves
makes 2 pints, halves and doubles easily
- 2 (12-ounce) packages of fresh cranberries, rinsed well and any bruised fruit discarded
- zest from one orange
- zest from one lemon
- juice from the orange plus water (to make one cup total of liquid)
- 1 1/2 C brown sugar, packed
- 1/8 tsp ginger, ground
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
In an 8-quart pot, combine all the ingredients and stir to mix. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer until the skins start to burst and the cranberries soften into a sauce, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat. (If canning, proceed as noted below.) Serve the sauce slightly chilled or at room temperature; if time allows, let it rest in the fridge for a few hours to develop the flavor. The sauce, sealed tightly, will keep about one month in the fridge.
Note: For canning, first boil the canning lids of 4 half-pint glass canning jars to sanitize them and soften the sealing compound. Ladle the hot cranberry sauce into four hot, sanitized half-pint jars (I ran the jars through the top rack dishwasher setting while I made my sauce) with 1/4″ headspace. Remove any air bubbles (most canning kits come with a plastic wand for this purpose). Wipe down the jar threads and rims with a clean, damp cloth. Seal with sanitized canning lids. Process in a 200-degree water bath for 10 minutes, or 15 minutes if using pint jars. Remove and let cool on a counter lined with towels. If the lid “pops” after several minutes of cooling, a vacuum seal has been made and the sauce has been safely processed. The canned cranberry sauce will keep for a year; it will still be safe to eat, but the flavor and color will start to deteriorate.