It’s not Thanksgiving if there is no cranberry sauce.

Weren’t we all taught that the Native Americans introduced the fruit they called “Sassamanash” to the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving feast? It’s been a staple of the holiday table ever since…the Ocean Spray cooperative has seen to that.

We might eat roast turkey at other times of the year, but if it was Thanksgiving there had to be plate with that quivering, ruby hued cylinder straight from the can.

More “tradition” than gastronomic delight, cranberry sauce was definitely a second-tier menu item as far as I was concerned. Things improved a bit when the whole berry cranberry sauce was substituted for the jellied kind on the T-day table. At least there was something to bite into other than a mass of too sweet gelatin.

Still, we never served or ate the stuff other than that one meal a year. It wasn’t until I was in college when Jim Thompson, a school mate, introduced me to the notion of cranberry sauce on a turkey sandwich, thereby extending the product’s culinary season by a few days.

My indifference to cranberries left me with twinges of guilt. It seemed un-American to not praise the garnet glob. I somehow felt a traitor to my native Garden State, usually ranked as the 3rd leading producer of cranberries in the country behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

Eating loaves of cranberry nut bread or quaffing glasses of cranberry juice cocktail (un-alcoholic in the pre-Cosmopolitan age) could not cure my shame at not being a bigger consumer of cranberry products.

One October many years ago, we were tooling through the pinelands of Burlington County in South Jersey and came upon a crew harvesting cranberries. Racing against the setting sun to reap the bounty of this last bog for the day, the crew scurried about their tasks while we watched and took pictures.

The tea-colored cedar water of the bog, the red berries, the golden sunset. It was all too beautiful. There had to be more to this cranberry sauce thing.

Enter Bon Appetite magazine, to which I was at the time treated to an annual subscription as a Christmas gift from my in-laws. The November 1998 issue was all about preparing the ultimate Thanksgiving dinner. The editors offered recipes and tips for all the classic components of the feast…including a variety of cranberry sauce recipes.

The one we tried that year is the one we have stayed with ever since: Cranberry Sauce with Dried Cherries and Cloves. It’s become a personal favorite of our nephew, Dan, who still won’t let us forget the year we forgot to get it out of the fridge and on the table for dinner. It’s simple, straightforward preparation can be done up to four days before the big meal.

And, yes, it is good on a turkey sandwich.

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Cherries and Cloves

Ingredients

  •  21/2 cups cherry cider or black cherry cider or cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 8-ounce package dried tart cherries (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 12-ounce package cranberries
  • 1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cloves

Preparation

Bring cider to simmer in heavy, large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add cherries and let stand 8 minutes. Mix in sugar, then cranberries and cloves. Cook over medium-high heat until cranberries burst, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours (sauce will thicken as it cools). (Can be prepared 4 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Fresh cranberries

In the pot with cider, dried cherries, sugar and cloves

Cranberry sauce

For a change up, albeit never for Thanksgiving dinner, we will use this alternate recipe for Roasted Cranberries. I clipped it out of the newspaper several years ago. It is good as a side dish for a meal or as a topping for a baked brie or even served warm over cheesecake.

Roasted Cranberries

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 tbs honey 2 strips orange peel
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 375°

Combine cranberries, honey, sugar, orange peel and rosemary in a 9 x 13 inch ovenproof casserole (glass or ceramic is recommended; juices tend to glaze on metal pans). Mix well Roast cranberries on center rack for 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through roasting, until cranberries are tender and slightly caramelized. Discard orange peel and rosemary. May be served warm or cold.

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3 Responses to “It’s not Thanksgiving if there is no cranberry sauce.”

  1. Mark Stradling Says:

    I’ve never tried making cranberry sauce with cherries. Sounds great, though.
    I usually boil one cup of orange juice (with pulp) to which one cup of sugar has been added, along with two cinnamon sticks. When the sugar has dissolved, add the cranberries, lower the heat and let ‘er go for about eight minutes or until most of the cranberries have burst. Remove cinnamon sticks and refrigerate sauce after it’s cooled to room temperature.

  2. Jim Carlucci Says:

    Mark, I think the cherries add another dimension to the otherwise one-note tartness of the cranberries. And when we can find cherry-apple cider as we did this year (diFiccio’s Pineland Farms) it makes the sauce even better.

    Personally, I’m leery of too much citrus adding to the already acidic nature of the cranberry sauce.

  3. Leftovers, Pt. 1: What’s on your sandwich? « Dj'eat? Says:

    […] Dj'eat? Notes from the kitchen table and beyond. « It’s not Thanksgiving if there is no cranberry sauce. […]

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