Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not too many things say Thanksgiving like cranberry sauce

For me, one of the quickest, easiest, and tastiest things on the Thanksgiving table has to be homemade cranberry sauce. We’ve already had Thanksgiving up here in Canada, but the big day has yet to arrive south of the 49th parallel. If you’ve ever bought a can of what they euphemistically label “Cranberry Sauce” at the supermarket, opened it and then put that on your table, shame on you! Turkey with stuffing and gravy is a difficult part of the meal, dessert usually means something like pie, and those aren’t easy to make well, but cranberry sauce? Well, it doesn’t get much easier to cook from scratch than cranberry sauce.

I’ll bet most people who buy fresh cranberries at Thanksgiving simply read the recipe on the back of the bag and go with that. I did for about 10 years (I can only plead laziness, I guess). It turned out okay, but each year the amount of sugar bothered me more and more. When sugar is the first thing you taste, that’s not a good thing. Cranberries are pretty tart and need sugar, but the flavor is also pretty darn tasty, too. I want that hit of cranberry on my tongue first. Besides, a little tartness is a good thing. With that in mind, I began by adjusting the sugar down to a level where the berry flavor could shine through. Then running across a recipe that included zested orange and lemon peel as additions, I added those. Before I bought a zester, which makes beautiful long pieces of zest very quickly, I used to do it by hand, cutting off piece of peel and then trimming off the bitter white pith on the underside of the peel, not difficult, but somewhat time-consuming. Using a zester makes it a snap. Best of all, they’re dirt cheap. You can find them at any good kitchen supply store.

Finally, I had a brainstorm: I'd seen cranberry sauce recipes included orange juice, so why not drop the lemon peel, stick to orange (I now zest the entire peel), then juice it after and use that for the liquid? With a good-sized navel orange you get almost a cup of juice and that’s all you need for a bag (two cups) of berries.

Spices go excellently with cranberries, so I use just enough allspice, cloves, and nutmeg to compliment but not mask the fruit and that completes the recipe.

Make it a day in advance so the sauce’s ingredients can meld and improve. If you’ve put it in the fridge (recommended) to do this, bring it up to room temperature before serving so the aroma and flavors are at their peak. If you make it on the day, then just leave it on the counter.

After that, all you have to do is put it in a pretty serving dish, stick a spoon in, and you’ve got a lovely accompaniment to your turkey dinner!

Cranberry/Orange Sauce
Serves 10-12

1 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice (1 large navel orange)
orange zest from the orange (zest it before squeezing the juice out)
1 pkg fresh cranberries (3 cups)
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
a bit of freshly-grated nutmeg


  1. Zest the orange then juice it. You should be able to get enough juice if the orange is big. If not, just make up the difference with water.
  2. Put the 1 cup of orange juice into a saucepan along with the sugar. Over medium heat, begin stirring to dissolve it.
  3. While that’s going on, rinse the cranberries in a colander. Throw away any that have brown spots. Now add the cranberries, orange zest and the three spices to the juice/water/sugar solution.
  4. Stirring occasionally, continue cooking over medium high heat until most of the cranberries have split open and the sauce is getting thick.
  5. If you’re not serving the sauce that day, refrigerate it, but bring it up to room temperature before serving for full flavor.

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