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The Essential Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving

Cranberry sauceNo matter how plump or well roasted the turkey is, your feast will not be complete without a bowl of cranberry sauce, an essential side dish for Thanksgiving. Although cranberry sauce is a relatively recent addition to the traditional Thanksgiving table, it is an offering that has been embraced as a fitting and indispensible contrast to the turkey and its usual trimmings.

How Cranberry Entered the Thanksgiving Picture

Cranberries are native to North America, predating the presence of the first Pilgrims who came aboard the Mayflower. Their availability in the New World, however, did not mean it was present during the first Thanksgiving meal. In The History Behind 5 Thanksgiving Traditions Americans Love of The Blaze, Billy Hallowell says while these fruits cranberries were very present in America and easy to access, “…The Pilgrims likely weren’t devouring the commodity. Considering that sugar — a key component of cranberry sauce — was a luxury item when the first Thanksgiving unfolded, making the jam was expensive.

In Cranberry History, Home Cooking expert Peggy Trowbridge Filippone says The Pilgrims learned all about cranberries from the Native Americans, who recognized the natural preservative power (benzoic acid) in the berries and often mixed them into pemmican (dried meat mixture) to extend its shelf life.
“Cranberry sauce came into the picture via General Ulysses S. Grant who ordered it served to the troops during the seige of Petersburg in 1864. Cranberry sauce was first commercially canned in 1912 by the Cape Cod Cranberry Company which marketed the product as “Ocean Spray Cape Cod Cranberry Sauce.” A merger with other growers evolved into the well-known Ocean Spray corporation now famous for their cranberry products…”

Cranberry Sauce Today

Today cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving staple for Thanksgiving in Canada and the United States. It is readily available from groceries in jelly form and as a sauce, a sweet-tart contrast to the richness of turkey with gravy. Apart from the store bought kind, however, there are many homemade versions of this delightful side dish.

Martha Stewart has several cranberry sauce recipes, and among these is one she calls basic cranberry sauce, one that will find favor among kitchens that have a strict no-alcohol rule. It calls for 12 ounces of cranberries, ¾ cup of sugar, a cup of water, and a teaspoon of lemon zest. To prepare the sauce, Martha’s instructs her readers; “In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, lemon zest, and water; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook until cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and let cool to room temperature.” Voila! It is indeed basic and extremely simple to prepare! As a bonus, this sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a week, making it a really good do-ahead addition to the holiday meal.

Ree Drummond of Food Network shares an equally interesting recipe in Cranberry Sauce. Her version calls for a 12 ounce bag of cranberries, a cup of cranberry juice, a cup of maple syrup, three tablespoons orange juice, and a tablespoon of orange rind.

The Pioneer Woman says, “Wash the bag of cranberries under cool water, and then throw them into a medium saucepan. Pour in the cranberry juice and maple syrup. Add the orange juice and orange rind (you could also do lemon rind and lemon juice – anything citrusy). Stir together and turn the heat on high until it reaches a boil and the berries begin to pop.
“Turn down the heat to medium-low and continue cooking over the lower heat until the juice is thick, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool, and then chill in the fridge until Thanksgiving dinner is ready. It should have a nice jelly-like consistency.”

She estimates that the entire process will take about 20 minutes to prepare and cook, and yes, it can be done way ahead of the Thanksgiving rush.

If you are planning to try your hand at making homemade cranberry sauce, these two experts guarantee that you can do it, and the distinct advantage of making the effort is you can make the sauce as sweet or as tart as you like. In other words, your cranberry sauce will be nothing short of perfect!

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