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NORTH COUNTRY KITCHEN: Cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving

November 20, 2014
By YVONA FAST , Lake Placid News

"It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it. "

- Alistair Cooke

Thanksgiving is next week. There are many traditional dishes that go with the holiday turkey: stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, pies for dessert. And every family has a traditional assortment of recipes to add their unique touch to the feast. Some are only made during the holidays.

Cranberry sauce is the most customary Thanksgiving turkey accompaniment. Each year, Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of the red jellied sauce. Although very easy to make, most modern Americans just buy it in a can. And that's unfortunate, because while cranberries have many health benefits, the commercial sauce is mostly sugar. For example, Ocean Spray's Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce contains 22 grams of sugar (5.5 teaspoons) in one 1/4 cup serving (which has 110 calories). The ingredients are cranberries, high fructose corn syrup, and water.

Cranberries themselves are a healthy superfood!. The red, sour berry is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, phytochemicals and other natural compounds. Long used for urinary tract health, the antioxidants and phytochemicals in cranberries play a significant role in preventing ulcers and maintaining neural function. They may also offer a natural defense against cancer and cardiovascular disease. It's better to eat them fresh rather than cooked, because the fresh fruit contains the highest level of beneficial nutrients.

According to tradition, cranberries, a native fruit that grows wild in wet regions of northeastern North America, were a part of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621. But it is unlikely that the Pilgrims' cranberries were in the form of the sweet sauce we consume with our turkey because sugar was a rare luxury item that was probably not available to early settlers in the New World.

Spicy/tart fruit relishes were traditional in British cuisine. In the New World, many of the fruits common in England like apples, pears or plums were not native and unavailable. So the settlers were happy to find the cranberry. Food historian Ken Albala writes, "The Europeans used cranberries the way they would have used similar fruits ... as a sour fruit sauce with wild fowl." Amelia Simmons, in American Cookery (1796), serves roast turkey with "boiled onions and cranberry-sauce." That is the first mention I've been able to find of a sauce made with cranberries. The earliest recipe I found for 'moulded cranberry sauce" is from Jennie June's American Cookery Book, 1870.

In 1846 the Southport Telegraph reported on the economy of cooking cranberries. The article discussed the scarcity of fruits common in Europe like apples, pears, peaches, and plums and the relative abundance of cranberries. Because cranberries are very tart and sugar was expensive, the article suggested using saleratus to neutralize the acidity, so less sugar would be required. Saleratus was a substance similar to our modern baking soda; its main use was as leavening.

It was not until the Civil War, however, that cranberry sauce began to be associated with Thanksgiving. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of every November. The following year, Union General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the condiment to be served to his troops in during the Siege of Petersburg.

Cranberries were cultivated by Native Americans. The colonists began widely cultivating them on Cape Cod in the early 1800s. Today, most of our cranberries are grown in eastern Massachusetts, northern Wisconsin and southern New Jersey. Because they ripen late in the fall, they're seasonal and ideal for Thanksgiving. 20 percent of all cranberries produced and sold each year are consumed during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Canned, jellied cranberry sauce was first made and sold by Ocean Spray in 1912. Before then, cranberries were only obtainable in season. Marcus L. Urann, a lawyer, wanted to extend the short time when cranberries were available. He began producing cranberry sauce and juice, canning the products and selling them. This expanded the cranberry market. The commercially canned cranberry sauce that can be sliced was his invention and appeared on the national market in 1941.

For the most basic sauce, simply boil cranberries in sugar water until they pop and thicken the liquid. Taste, and add more sugar or seasonings. In addition to sauce, cranberries can be made into a relish or chutney. Chutney is a condiment that combines the British love of sweet fruit jams with hot spices from the Indian subcontinent. Like chutneys, relishes also originated in India. Relishes are most often made from raw fruits and veggies that are either chopped or pickled. Relishes and chutneys can be sweet, savory, or spicy, and are often paired with meat.

Adirondack Cranberry Sauce


12 ounces whole, fresh cranberries

1 cup maple syrup

2 apples


Place cranberries and maple syrup in a saucepan, cover, and heat to a simmer. Cook until the cranberries pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Peel, core, and dice or shred the apples, and stir into the warm sauce. Taste and add a little more syrup if needed.

Spicy Cranberry Fruit Relish


1 seedless orange

1 bag whole, fresh cranberries (12 oz.)

1 or 2 apples, peeled and cored

1/3 cup honey or sugar (or more or less, to taste)

1 cup walnuts, optional

Optional spices: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Fit your food processor with a medium-sized shredding disk. Shred the raw cranberries, the whole orange, including the skin (Segment and seed first, if not seedless) and the apples. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl.

Taste. Add honey to taste.

Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for 1 2 minutes until you can smell them and they soften slightly. Chop coarsely and stir in, along with any spices you decide to use. Taste, and adjust seasonings & spice as needed.

Variation: Experiment with using other fruit like pineapple, peaches or pears in place of the apples or orange.

Cranberry Chutney


1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 cups cranberries

cup black currants (optional)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger (one 1 1/2 inch piece)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. cloves


In medium saucepan, bring to a boil water, sugar and vinegar. Lower heat and simmer 2 minutes. Add cranberries, cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they pop. Add currants, onion, apple and spices. Cook over low heat, stirring often until mixture starts to thicken, about 15 minutes. It will thicken more when it cools.

Put chutney in jar or bowl, cool, and refrigerate up to one month.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers' Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing.

She can be reached at



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