As a kid, my only experience with cranberry sauce was jelly that comes out of a can - a bizarre substance that I considered barely edible on its own, but useful for a tangy counterpoint to other Thanksgiving foods.
At college, I got acquainted with real cranberries. My love affair with the tangy fruit (fresh and dried) began with plain sauce and moved in all sorts of directions. Now I throw dried cranberries in salad and rice dishes, bake with them and toss them in yogurt or cereal. The raw ones are bit more challenging, because they require sweetening. They do well baked, but their true shining moment is in a sauce, relish, or chutney.
I love cranberry sauce for its contrast to the mild taste of turkey, but even the vegetarians consider it an essential part of our Thanksgiving meal. Traditionally, we have 3 varieties: plain cranberry sauce, an apple-cranberry-nut sauce and a cranberry-orange relish. This year, I may also add a Southeast Asian version (chutney) with crystallized ginger. Whatever version you're making, if it has cranberries, it’s a great condiment for any poultry (turkey or chicken) or even pork and goes wonderfully with stuffing and vegetables. Did I mention how wonderful cranberry sauce/relish/chutney is in sandwiches?
My family's 3 recipes are simple. You can dress them up with additional ingredients or substitutions. For example, you can substitute orange juice for water in either cooked cranberry sauce, or add a tablespoon of liqueur or 1-2 teaspoons of grated orange zest. I use honey in my plain and cranberry-apple-nut sauce, but you could substitute sugar and add another 1-2 tablespoons of water to compensate for the liquid that the honey provided. When I make the cranberry sauce more than a few days in advance, I freeze it in a container that has the air “burped” out of it.
Note on serving sizes/cost - In my experience, there is considerable variation in how much cranberry sauce/relish people eat. I'd estimate that each cooked sauce makes 6-8 servings and the relish about 10-12. Each version costs about $3.50 - $5 for the whole batch, of which $2.50 is the cost of the cranberries. Divided by the number of servings, these condiments cost from $.35 - $.85 per serving.
Plain Fresh Cranberry Sauce
This version is tart, rather thick, and smooth but with a few individual cranberries visible after cooking. If you like it on the sweet side, add more honey. If you prefer it thinner, increase the water to 1 cup, keeping in mind that cooked cranberry sauce gets thicker as it cools.
- ¾ cup water
- ⅔cup honey
- 1 package (12 ounces) of fresh cranberries
- Pot, preferably a heavy one
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Boil the water with the honey, being careful not to let the mixture boil over.
- Rinse the cranberries and add them to the water/honey mixture. Bring the mixture back to a boil and continue to boil under medium-low heat for 5-10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped.
- Cool to room temperature and refrigerate or freeze in a closed container until ready to serve.
This is a cross between cranberry and apple sauce, less tart than the plain version. The nuts are nice, but not essential. For a milder version, substitute a pear for 1 or both of the apples.
- ½ cup water
- ⅔ cup honey
- 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks. Any type of apple that is not super-tart works. The larger the apple pieces, the more likely they are to retain their shape. For smoother sauce, make the pieces small. Softer apple varieties, like Macintosh, disintegrate more easily. I prefer my cranberry sauce chunky, so I leave the apple pieces larger, about the size of my thumb to first joint.
- 1 package (12 ounces) of cranberries
- about 2 handfuls of walnuts, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup before chopping)
- Pot, preferably a heavy one
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Cutting board
- Peeler (also optional apple corer)
- Knife for cutting apples
- Bowl and chopper for nuts (or buy already chopped nuts)
- Boil the water with the honey, being careful not to let the mixture boil over. (The amount of water used in this version is not exact, as apples contain water and how thick the sauce is with 2 apples and ½ cup water depends on the size and juiciness of the apples. Play it by ear and don’t be afraid to tinker with the proportions.)
- Add the apple pieces and bring the mixture back to a rolling boil.
- Rinse the cranberries and add them to water/honey/apple mixture. Bring the mixture back to a boil and continue to boil for 5-10 minutes under medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until most of the cranberries have popped.
- Cool to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.
- Just before serving add the walnuts. (The nuts get softer when they sit in the sauce.) If you like an intense, nutty flavor, lightly bake the walnuts in a toaster oven at 325 degrees for 5-10 minutes, watching them carefully and stirring occasionally.
This one is uncooked, with an intense taste. A little goes a long way.
- 1 navel orange
- 1 bag (12 ounces cranberries)
- ½ - ¾ cup sugar
- Grater for taking zest off the orange
- Food processor with chopping blade
- Measuring cup for solids
- Grate the orange peel off (the zest) taking care not to grate the white part below the skin.
- Peel the white part (called the “pith”) and break the orange into sections.
- Put the orange zest, orange sections, cranberries and sugar in the food process and pulse it until the mixture is chunky. Let it sit at least 2 hours (refrigerated) before serving.
- Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve.
If you’re really adventurous, try NPR commentator Susan Stamberg’s recipe (from her mother-in-law) – using horseradish and sour cream. It’s weirdly pink, but she swears by it.