Cranberries may be among the most traditional dishes served at many a Thanksgiving spread. While it's uncertain whether they were present at the harvest feast we think of as the first Thanksgiving, if they were, they likely would've been served in a very different form.
The Question: "Where do you stand on cranberry sauce? I'd like to know whether it should be in a jelly form or some kind of relish — and if it's a jelly, is it acceptable for it to be shaped like anything other than the can? Think of this as a kind of Question of the Week that could see your answers published online. Don't even like cranberries, or have an alternative? I'd like to know that, too."
Your Answers: The responses were as varied as any other Thanksgiving meal tradition, but our admittedly loose survey breaks down like this:
- 51 percent of respondents advocated for a cranberry relish of some kind
- 29 percent supported a homemade sauce from fresh or frozen cranberries
- 17 percent said jelly or chunky cranberry sauce from a can is OK
- 3 percent said cranberries had no place at their table
Of those who preferred a jelly or canned sauce, fully one third said it still should be shaped like the can when it's served. According to marthastewart.com, recipes similar to modern sweetened cranberry sauces date to the 1630s. Pretty sure there were no cans back then.
A few people — 9, to be exact — specifically denigrated canned cranberry jelly, saying such things as "You put jelly on toast!" and "That's just blasphemous!"
Personally, I knew cranberry as the flavor of those Thanksgiving jelly discs before I ever knew it was an actual berry and still get nostalgic about it sometimes.
Lookout reader Felicity points out cans can be good with kids: "If you have a child present, open the openable end with a can opener and then poke a few holes in the other end. Have the child hold the can and let the jelly slide out into a dish — with luck it will make a wonderful “smuck” sound as it exits! It needs to be well-chilled."
While relishes were mentioned in many forms, oranges, water and sugar were the near-universal additional ingredients (try starting with this Anthony Bourdain recipe), with occasional mentions of pineapple, nuts, jalapeños and even bacon.
Nearly a quarter of relish lovers specifically recommended Susan Stamberg's recipe "Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish," which has a long and storied history as a running NPR Thanksgiving tradition.
Other variations, including cranberry-lime salsa, curried cranberries, cranberry chutney, cranberry sorbet and even cranberry-brandy slush drinks were mentioned.
One thing is clear — cranberries remain a favorite at Thanksgiving, with a few readers even eschewing gravy in their favor. "I don't actually put gravy on my turkey or mashed potatoes. I top them with cranberry sauce," writes Lookout reader Jamie.
Lookout reader Sarah Field also shared her favorite homemade cranberry sauce recipe:
Quick Crowd-Pleaser Cranberry Sauce
- 1 bag fresh cranberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 orange, zested (not fine — use a peeler to get large peels) and juiced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- dash nutmeg (about 1/4 tsp)
- dash cloves
- dash freshly ground black pepper
- In a small saucepan, heat cranberries over medium heat. Add sugar, orange juice and orange zest. It is important to use a peeler to zest your orange so that you don't have tiny chunks of orange zest in the sauce. The large strips (avoid with white "pith" as it's very bitter) add a ton of flavor from the oil and are easy to remove for serving.
- Stir until well mixed and cook over medium heat until cranberries start to burst. Then add the cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper.
- Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cranberries are mostly popped and you achieve your personal favorite consistency.
- Remove orange peels and cinnamon stick if desired and serve (warm or room temperature).
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