Please, oh please, tell me that you’re not still doing this…
Canned cranberry sauce is such a tragedy. Not because it’s a processed gelatinous mess (though, it is!) but because it is the easiest Thanksgiving side to make yourself. If you, like I, have signed up to prepare something for a Thanksgiving feast, trust me when I say that homemade cranberry sauce is 100% your best option.
Let me back up just a bit to when I first realized that cranberry sauce is such a no brainer. One of the best college graduation gifts I got was my first “real” cookbook and a set of mixing bowls. I am a cookbook addict and have good many on my shelves, but I return to The New Basics over and over again for solid recipes and reliable cooking advice.
How to Cook Everything has become very popular in recent years, and I have that one too, but it’s kind of a beast. The New Basics is just that, basic. I turned to it when I cooked my first Thanksgiving, and have turned to it many times since. It’s the only cookbook I own with a fully broken spine!
And yes, it’s where I store printed and handwritten recipes, like another holiday favorite, Four Nut Tart, and sweet potato casserole with pecan crumble (similar recipe here) which is how we do it in the South. Everyone should have a cookbook like this.
Back at that first Thanksgiving, a orphan friendsgiving in Los Angeles eaten at cobbled together folding tables on mismatched chairs with a random assortment of tableware that everyone brought along, I cooked the turkey, those Southern sweet potatoes, and ventured into the world of homemade cranberry sauce. I have never once considered turning back since!
Tomorrow is Freshgiving at my office and, of course, I signed up for this dish once again. I was so excited to get started today that I tossed everything into the pot without taking a picture first!
There are only 5 ingredients. Five. I think you can do it. In fact, the recipe on the inside of the cranberry container only had 3 ingredients. There really is no excuse. But, I will say that these five ingredients add a lot of depth of flavor with very little effort. Here’s the recipe straight from the source:
You might notice a couple of small differences between the recipe as printed and the ingredients I used today. The first time I made this, I couldn’t find cran-raspberry juice, only cran-grape. It turned out great, so it’s become a tradition. I have made it with both cran-rasp and plain old cran before and I find the result a little more tart than I like. So, if you prefer tartness over sweetness, stick with the original. I also use chopped walnuts instead of walnut halves. Unlike RF, I like to assemble complex food combinations on my fork. Walnut halves throw off the balance when scooping turkey, stuffing, and cranberry into one bite. Chopped walnuts provide just the right amount of nutty crunch without being overwhelming.
A note about zest. RF has very strong feelings about zest. Negative ones. Of course, he also hates cooked fruit. (I know, so weird.) Alas, he doesn’t seem to gag over this recipe. So, if you’re zest-averse, it’s worth giving this a try before completely nixing it. It’s not a lot of zest, but it lends the perfect tart balance to the sweetness of the maple syrup.
Honestly, there are lots of ways that you could switch this recipe up. A little lemon zest would do the same trick. Pecans would likely be delicious. Maybe even pine nuts! Or, no nuts would also be fine. You won’t ruin the recipe by omitting them.
So, go ahead, toss everything except the nuts straight into one pot.
Turn up the heat to medium and wait. As the liquids start to boil, the cranberries will begin to pop! And the steam will make your house smell so delicious…
As the boil gets rolling, and the cranberries burst, a pink foam will collect on the surface. That foam is kind of bitter, so it’s best to skim it off.
For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed that organic berries generate less foam. I pick my organic battles here, since I think that the sugar and flavors in OceanSpray cran-grape produce a nicer tasting sauce than some of the organic juices I’ve tried. You can certainly opt in or out at any level.
Stir more frequently as the mini explosions slow, pressing any remaining solid berries between the back of a spoon and side of the pot. As the sauce thickens, remove from the heat and add the walnuts. Give another good stir and leave to cool.
I usually leave the pot on the back of the stove while I’m off doing other things, giving it a quick stir to release heat whenever I pass through the kitchen. Though, I also haven’t discovered a big downside to immediately refrigerating. If you’re going to do that, I just recommend picking a dish that’s good for cold/hot storage. Either way, the sauce will continue to thicken up as it cools.
For tomorrow, I chose a glass storage container that will transport easily and still look decent when I pop off the lid and stick a spoon in it. But feel free to polish up the silver for holiday serving.
Oh, and save a little for yourself. It’s also delicious on sandwiches or toast. I’m already dreaming of a bagel with cream cheese and maple cranberry sauce for breakfast tomorrow.
Seriously, there is no excuse for the can. If you’re still doing that…stop! Make this the year you start making our own cranberry sauce.