I love my mom dearly and miss her every day. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this, one of them being all the time we spent in the kitchen. I still remember the last time we made the Christmas Snowball cookies I love so much. It was her last time making them, and we hadn’t done it together in many years. It was a very special day for us both.
Mom made an outstanding Thanksgiving dinner, and did the same at Christmas and Easter, as well. The turkey was always excellent (ham or lamb on Easter), the stuffing just moist enough without being a blob. The mashed potatoes were real, and rich and creamy. I mean, it was all great. Except for the cranberry-esque can of goop that passes for cranberry sauce on so many tables.
I hated that stuff. There was NO way in the world you’d get me to eat it. And that was a sad thing, because it took me forever to discover how much better real cranberry sauce can be. Actually, not forever. It was in my sophomore year of high school. I had a late, second dinner at a friend’s house one year and her mom had made real cranberry sauce. It was like fruit flavored candy, and I ate a TON of it! That very Christmas, I bought a two bags of cranberries and made my own. I honestly didn’t mean to hurt my mom’s feelings, but she wasn’t all that happy about it. She still put out the can-formed cylinder of goop.
The basic cranberry sauce has to be one of the easiest Thanksgiving recipes you’ll every put together. Seriously. Three things: a bag of cranberries, cup of sugar, a cup of water. Put ’em in a small pot and let ’em go till the berries pop. Easy. Peasy. And the addition of an ingredient or two, doesn’t make it any more difficult. It just adds ingredients.
Turns out the recipe that follows is nothing new. But I had never seen or heard of putting walnuts in cranberries until I thought of it on my own. Of course, after I did, I found out that about fourteen trillion other people had thought of it, too. But I didn’t know it at the time, so I feel just fine saying this is my own recipe. My first modification was to add a bit of cinnamon; the second was chopped walnuts. Oranges came later. That’s the road I traveled from canned goop to gourmet cranberry sauce. So… now it’s time for you to begin your own journey.
Let’s go have some fun!
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice – fresh-squeezed is best
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray® fresh or frozen cranberries
Up to 1 cup walnuts (chopped)
In a small sauce pan, bring water and orange juice to a boil.
As the water approaches a boil, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Add cranberries, and return to boil. Once the pan has reached a boil again, reduce the heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency has been achieved. (See below.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool (at least slightly).
Chop walnuts to desired size. I like to leave least some (but not all) of them a fairly decent size so that you can see them, and feel the crunch when you bite down. Too many large pieces, though, and the crunchiness sort of overwhelms the cranberries.
Start by adding 1/2 cup walnuts to cranberries and stir them in. Now, look at the pan. Does it look like enough walnuts to you? If not, put in a few more. Feel free to taste test while you’re adding. Once you’re happy, eat any leftoever walnuts as your prize for doing such a great job! You might want to save a few to sprinkle on top just before serving, but it’s not requried.
There are a few ways to take this up a level or two:
1. Cut an orange in half, then cut each half into wedges. Drop them all in the pot and go.
1a. Add mandarin orange slices after cranberries have been removed from heat. This will keep them from falling apart.
1b. Instead of orange slices, you can use a tablespoon or two of orange zest. If you do this, save some out to sprinkle on top just before serving.
2a. If you want a hint of apple flavor without the apples, add a tablespoon or two of apple cider. You do have apple cider on your holiday list, right? Right?
3. Drop a cinnamon stick into the pot in the beginning and let it steep as you boil. Ooooooo… apple juice, cinnamon, walnuts. Forget the oranges. There’s the version I’m doing this year! (2014 edit.)
The longer you boil the cranberries, the more of them will split and end up being part of the jelly. I like to let a lot of the berries keep their shape, because I think it looks better. But feel free to do it your own way. I know some folks even put the cranberries through a metal strainer (using the back of a spoon or a spatula) to get a totally smooth consistency. I could see doing this with a bag and a half of cranberries, but I’d pull out about a half a bag worth of berries when the first one popped. Let the rest go until most had popped; strain them and return to the pot. Then add the reserved berries, some apple and orange, and some walnuts. Personally, I think this one is best served chilled.
I always do double batch. You should, too. Because the next day, you’ll be eating this with a spoon – all by itself. And slapping your little brother to keep him away from you while you gobble the entire bowl.
I like to do make this just about the time the turkey is coming out of the oven. That way, it’s still warm when served the first time. However, most cranberry sauce recipes will tell you to cool completely on the counter, then refrigerate it overnight. It does gel up very nicely when you do this, and the coolness can be an interesting contrast to the hot foods on the plate. But I still like it warm most of the time.
As you can see, this isn’t hard to do, and it doesn’t really take that long. It may seem like a small thing when compared to everything else on the table. But many times, it’s the details that count, and such is the case here. If you think about it, turkey and cranberry sauce are just like potatoes and gravy. Those mashed potatoes taste great on their own, but put some gravy over them and they’re five times better! Well, put a little cranberry on our fork with your turkey and get ready for your eyes to roll back in your head. So keep an eye on the details of your feast to make sure you get as many compliments as possible. And, yes…
Play with your food!
I have more Sauce Recipes here.
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