I’ve decided the way to tackle Thanksgiving this year is one manageable step at a time. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t hard, it’s just the number of dishes that can be daunting. This year I’m all about easy.
We all choose our cheats for Thanksgiving. My mom always used dried stuffing mix, and my mother-in-law would make instant mashed potatoes. I’m an pathetic pie maker, despite my best efforts, so pies usually get outsourced (for anyone in central Ohio, Just Pies is fantastic).
Canned cranberry sauce is a common cheat, and I too grew up with the Ocean Spray cans at Thanksgiving. But in the age of BPA in cans and high-fructose corn syrup in everything, I prefer to make my own. It’s incredibly fast and easy, and every year I delight in its bright ruby glow.
Making cranberry sauce is also a cool chemistry demonstration, because it jells without the added pectin necessary in most jams and jellies. Cranberries are naturally high in pectin, which is released into the sauce when the cranberries are cooked.
Cranberry sauce keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can make this a few days ahead and set it out to choruses of “What, you made your own cranberry sauce?” on the big day.
I’ve been visiting my mom and dad in California, and we had an early Thanksgiving here last weekend. I put cranberry sauce on to cook while I did other prep work.
Rinse a bag of fresh cranberries. Fresh cranberries are hard and sturdy, with a natural layer of wax that helps keep them fresh for weeks.
Really all you need is sugar and water. But since my mom always oranges around, I substituted in some juice and pulp. If these were my mom’s homegrown oranges, I would have used the zest, which really adds orange flavor.
My mom has used this juicer for 40 years. Chinese grandma frugality at work.
Sugar, water, cranberries. Orange if you like. That’s it.
Bring to a boil. You’ll hear the cranberries start to pop – it’s the sound of the skins bursting.
Turn heat down to simmer.
In 10 or 15 minutes it’s done. You’ll have some whole cranberries left, but most of the skins have now popped to release the pectin inside that makes the sauce jell.
The sauce will thicken as it cools. And your bonus for not cheating on cranberry sauce is a gorgeous spoonful of Thanksgiving a few days early.
Other posts for Thanksgiving planning
- Green beans with feta and balsamic vinegar
- Pumpkin applesauce cake
- Simple bread stuffing
- Arugula, pear and parmesan salad
- Derby pie
- Chocolate pie
Easy Cranberry Sauce
Making cranberry sauce isn’t much harder than boiling water – a bag of fresh cranberries, sugar and water in a pot. Better tasting than canned and better for you.
- 1 12-ounce bag (3 cups) fresh cranberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water (or orange juice)
- Orange zest (optional)
- Rinse cranberries in a colander, picking out any stems.
- Pour cranberries into medium saucepan. Add water and sugar.
- Place saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer. You will hear the cranberries pop. Simmer 10-15 minutes until cranberries are soft and skins are popped open (you’ll still have some whole ones, but it’s the pectin inside the cranberries that will make the sauce thicken as it cools).
- Pour sauce into a bowl to cool.
- I like the idea of using orange juice, but the taste gets lost with the cranberries. To really taste orange, zest is best.
- Easy to add nuts, spices or other embellishments (diced pear is nice) to this basic recipe.
- I’ve been tempted in the past to reduce the amount of sugar, but I’ve learned a too-tart sauce doesn’t attract many takers in my house.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Here’s the link to a printable version.