I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that one could actually make cranberry sauce from scratch. For some reason, the thought had lodged in my brain through habit and advertising that cranberry sauce came from a can. Every Thanksgiving I would anticipate the slurp of the jellied cranberry sauce as it slid out onto a plate. I would designate myself the “cranberry sauce slicer” and happily slice up the jello-y, ruby-colored cylinder using the ridges from the can as a guide. These experiences account for my confusion as to why it was called “sauce.” Cranberry sauce is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving because it’s one of those “Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving only,” foods. We might enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, or gravy throughout the year, but let’s be honest, the cranberry sauce makes Thanksgiving.
Growing up, my family was less fortunate and relied heavily on cheap, packaged foods that mostly came in the form of donations to the needy. Mine was a childhood mired with Velveeta cheese, Spam, and neon-orange colored, powdered juice mixes. Thanksgiving was one of the few occasions where fresh foods were prepared, but even then they were limited. Freeze dried potatoes were an abomination on the holiday, and my father would make gravy from the drippings of the turkey, but my family still preferred the pre-made pumpkin pie found in the grocery store, along with whipped cream from an aerosol can, stuffing from a bag and any combination of frozen corn, beans and peas.
It was only a few short years ago, while working at a natural foods grocery store (where I learned more about whole foods than I ever could have on my own) that I got my first taste of homemade cranberry sauce. It was that very moment when I realized that the “delicious,” jellied cranberry sauce in the can was nothing more than corn syrup* with some cranberry flavoring. Now that I know the difference, there’s no substitute for homemade. Over several holiday seasons I have spent time perfecting my own recipe for cranberry sauce. I don’t much care for like the leathery cranberry skins that seem to stick in your teeth all day, so I strain them out to get a velvety texture.
I learned the basic recipe from watching over the shoulder of a chef in the natural foods deli where I used to work circa 2006. I have added fragrant orange zest and crystallized ginger. The sugar can be adjusted to taste, as the orange juice will add sweetness as well as flavor.
Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce
16 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1cup/ 8oz fresh orange juice
1 Tblsp grated orange zest
3 large pieces of crystallized ginger (or to taste), chopped
Pinch of sea salt
1 – 1 ½ cups evaporated cane sugar (or other natural sweetener)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp of cornstarch (I use non-GMO) added to
Rinse the cranberries. Add orange juice, orange zest, ginger, sea salt and cinnamon to a large pot over medium heat. Let the juice come to a slow boil, this infuses the liquid with the ginger and cinnamon. Add cranberries and slowly add the sugar to dissolve. As the cranberries begin to heat and turn bright red, begin mashing or blending. I personally using a potato masher and it works just fine. A hand blender would also do the trick. As the mixture begins to boil and the berries are mashed, the juice will thicken. I add a little cornstarch to make a more jelly-like sauce, it’s completely optional.
Once the sauce has cooked and thickened (5-10mins). Turn off heat. I strain the sauce with a fine wire sieve. Chill 1 hour to overnight. Serve. See how easy that is? Who needs a can of sugary, processed cranberry jelly when you can make something as good as this.
The spices in this recipe make me think of Christmas. I can almost hear the jingle bells off in the distance.
*There is a lot of information on the web about high fructose corn syrup. In my personal opinion, it is not healthy to consume in even moderate amounts. See this study done at Princeton. This is one example of many that provide reasons to drop corn syrup from your diet. And again, this is not professional/medical advice but only a personal opinion informed by research.