Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cranberry Sauce: Canning The Can

Several years ago, I was preparing to attend a big Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house. I asked my mom what I could bring. She got back to me a little while later with Grandma’s request that I bring the vegetables. Okay. I couldn’t think of a good recipe immediately, but my collection was growing on its way to the epic proportions it now has, and I could come up with something. But no. I was being asked to bring raw cut vegetables. It was the equivalent of being patted on the head and told, “Don’t worry your little self about cooking something. We know you can’t do that. Just bring some carrot and celery sticks.” And they didn’t even soften the blow by calling it a crudite' platter.

To add injury to the insult, when we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, there was no cranberry sauce and *gasp* no pumpkin pie! (Harry, who loves them both, almost cried.) Both of these are dishes I can make well (I hope to post a pumpkin pie recipe soon), and I grumbled a bit to myself and vowed that such a thing would never happen again.

If you are about to find yourself in a similar predicament, here’s what you can do: before anyone tells you what to bring, volunteer to bring the cranberry sauce. Oh sure, they’ll be expecting you to bring The Can. The Can is iconic, predictable, comes in jellied or fancy-pants whole berry varieties. The Can is an American institution.
Phooey on the can! If you can boil water and use a measuring cup (you don’t even have to use it all that accurately), you can make cranberry sauce. If you can get your hands on fresh or frozen cranberries in a 12 ounce (340 g) bag (Ocean Spray brand should be just about everywhere), a cup of liquid and a cup of sugar, you’re in business. It will taste so fresh and delicious and will look so, well, not out of a can that its presence will be met with murmurs of awe. You will be the hero. No more of the perfunctory smear of deep red goo that gets pushed around the plate until it is dissolved into that last puddle of gravy and that tiny bit of stuffing that you just didn’t have enough extra notches on your belt to accommodate.

Maybe I’m getting carried away, but his is great stuff. We particularly like it made with orange juice or apple cider. The citrus punch of the orange juice compliments the sour acidity of the cranberries and helps cut through stodgy holiday fare like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Apple cider tames the acidity a bit and makes a mellower sauce. I’d also like to try pineapple or pomegranate juice. You could even use water for a cranberry-only taste. (I’ve also seen recipes using red wine, but I can’t remember if I ever tried one.)
This recipe can be made ahead, even a few days. Refrigerate it until an hour or two before you’re going to eat it, then let it come to room temperature where it tastes best. This really is easy and would probably take less effort than cutting up vegetable sticks. If you do decide to bring the vegetable tray, however, at least have the style to call it crudite'.
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
You can use just about any juice that you like, or even water to make this cranberry sauce. I particularly like orange juice and apple cider.
1 12-ounce (340 g) package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup (250 ml) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) juice or water

1. Combine cranberries, sugar and juice or water in a medium-size saucepan. Stir together and cook over medium-high heat.

2. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook 8-10 minutes or until the cranberries have all burst and the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat. Serve at room temperature or store in the refrigerator for a few days. Let chilled sauce come to room temperature before serving.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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