It’s officially November. That means I officially have three more weekends of testing to do before Thanksgiving/Chanukah (ie, Thanksgivukkah). The bright side? One only has to stress about this combined holiday once every 70,000 years, so I’m good for a while. So, as I was coming off of the Halloween candy sugar high (because we literally got zero trick-or-treaters and had to eat all the candy ourselves), I figured I’d better start turning my eyes away from the big ol’ bowl of fun-size Snickers and focus on the matter at hand: What the heck does one serve for such a hybrid holiday? Beats me, so I’m just sticking to the basics until inspired otherwise.
Cranberry sauce has always been one of those things that I could take or leave…actually leaning more towards the “leave” part of that spectrum. The stuff of my youth was plopped out of a can onto a serving dish……and still looked like the can. We carved off slices of cranberry sauce. What’s wrong with this picture here?
I’ve made other cranberry sauces before from various recipes, but I decided to throw all those away and just kind of step back to assess the ingredients at hand.
Cranberries, sugar, and water. That’s all you really need to make a dynamite cranberry sauce. Sure, you can add other flavors. I spiced mine up with cinnamon and orange zest. However, the key to really nailing the stuff, in my opinion, is the right sugar-to-cranberry ratio. Oh, and pectin. (Such a great word, by the way! During my first batch of cranberry sauce, I was actually muttering the word to myself as the berries exploded. Pectin…pectin…pectin…)
Sugar is important here, guys. There’s no way around it. If you’re one of the fortunate souls out there to train your palate to shirk away from uber sweet American desserts, I think cranberry sauce might be your foil here. Cranberries need sugar to balance out the tart and, more importantly, bring out their cranberry flavor. Without the right amount of sugar, your tastebuds will be stuck on the tart. Don’t be afraid of the white stuff here.
Can we talk about pectin now? Please???
I love exploding fruit. Very rarely do I get to say that, but I really do. And cranberry sauce is one of those dishes that undergoes a complete cellular transformation right in front of your eyes inside of 10 minutes. First, you have whole berries. Then, you have violent pink bubbling foam washing over the berries. Finally, it all ends with the berries just completely giving up and exploding – literally popping open into your face – releasing pectin. (Pectin!) Cranberries are naturally high in the stuff, and since cranberries also contain a lot of sugar and acid (two ingredients pectin needs in order to do its Jello-y thing), it would seem that cranberries are destined to become gelatinous sauce.
Honestly, this stuff is so much fun to make just for the sheer fact that it’s so stinking simple and the end result is nothing short of remarkable. It sort of takes my breath away. For this Thanksgiving, try your hand at your own homemade cranberry sauce, spiced up any which way you like. Once you try it, I think you’ll be hard pressed to revert back to your old can-carving ways (unless, of course, that’s really your thing, in which case I wouldn’t dream of trying to stop you…honestly).
Homemade cranberry sauce is so simple to make and can be spiced up any which way for a special homespun Thanksgiving side dish.
- 24 oz. cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp orange zest (about the zest of 1 orange)
- In a large pot, add the cranberries, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and orange zest. Stir to evenly coat.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce to a simmer over low heat. Continue to simmer until the berries burst and the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the cinnamon sticks and cool at room temperature in the pot before transferring to a serving dish (or airtight container) to finish chilling in the fridge overnight.