Cranberries before you know it

I love Thanksgiving. It’s probably my favorite holiday of the year. I love that when it comes down to it, it’s really an entire holiday devoted to food. Yes, yes, there’s a bigger meaning, and it’s great to sit down and figure out what you’re thankful for, and blah, blah, blah, but the celebration itself is all about preparing and enjoying a great meal with people who are important to you. That’s something that I’m thankful for every year.

Turkey, potatoes, pie, stuffing, it’s all great, but I want to talk today about the unsung hero of Thanksgiving dinner, cranberry sauce. It’s really the perfect complement to white meat. Save the gravy for your potatoes and dressing (mmmmm, dressing. . .), heck, a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich is probably the perfect way to spice up those leftovers. (I’m also frightfully fond of leftovers, but that’s another column.)

I’ve gotten the impression over the years that many people don’t share my enthusiasm for cranberry sauce, so in the hope of reaching out to those who have only ever had the opportunity to try a can-shaped glob of red, um, cranberry-ish gunk, I want to share my incredibly simple family recipe for cranberry sauce.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (12 ounce) bag of cranberries
  • 1 apple (pink lady or northern spy are good)
  • 1 pat of butter

That’s it. Gathered together on the counter, they look something like this:


Put the water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved. It’ll start off looking like this:


And you’re ready when it looks like this:

sugar dissolved

Cube the apple, and add the cranberries, apple, and butter to the pot.

add the cranberries

Raise the heat to high, and boil for a minute and a half. That’s right, just a minute and a half. You’ll be able to hear the cranberries popping.

After ninety seconds, turn off the burner and let the sauce cool completely. It’ll look a bit watery, but the pectin released from the cranberries will thicken the mixture into red, tart gloriousness. The end result will be more of a jelly than jell-o, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll never look back.

finished sauce

The secret is the apples. As the sauce thickens, they’ll turn beet red, but they stay crisp even after days in the refrigerator. (The sauce is good in the refrigerator for at least a week. I’ve never had any left after that.)

Some quick Twitter research put savory cranberry sauces on my radar — vinegar! horseradish! the possibilities are endless! — but I have a bit more testing to do before I can write about that. Good thing cranberries are on sale, and are so freezer-friendly.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

4 Responses to “Cranberries before you know it”
  1. Sarah says:

    I totally agree–cranberry sauce is delicious and you can’t have too much of it.

    You want an even easier recipe? Try this no-cook version: Take 12oz frozen cranberries and 1 navel orange and toss the whole lot in your blender (yes, rind and all) and blend until chopped into little bits. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar, or more, to taste. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature. Eat. Variation: add in a jalapeno to give it some spiciness. Or add in a couple tablespoons of orange liqueur to make it more organgey. If you’re fussy, zest the orange and throw away the pith, then blend pulp and zest, but I don’t find that necessary.

    Also easy, this time involving a stove: 12oz cranberries, 1 chopped onion, 12oz red currant jam, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 2 tsp sugar. Dump it in a pot, bring to a boil, then simmer until the berries have burst. Let sit for a few hours. Eat!

    In other words, yum, cranberry sauce!

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