For as long as I can remember, my mom makes the cranberry sauce at every Thanksgiving and Christmas meal. My sister, who lives on the east coast, has picked up the tradition; her yearly invitation to a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner comes with the understanding that she’ll be bringing the cranberry sauce. And this year I made the cranberry sauce for my Sunday school class’ Thanksgiving celebration. As far as I know, I’ve never even tasted that can-shaped, jellied and sliced “cranberry” … thing.
And until two weeks ago, I thought it was a “secret family recipe” that my mom learned from her mom, who learned it from her mom, and so on all the way back to 1621. I found pride in the fact that my family made their own cranberry sauce from scratch. We don’t just whip out the can opener, slide out a quivering mass of “cranberry” goo and slice away. When I found myself volunteering to bring the cranberry sauce this year, I was excited to be a part of the secret family recipe.
When it was time to make my very first from-scratch-cranberry sauce, I excitedly asked my mom for the recipe. I expected a note card with rubbed-away cranberry stains or some folded piece of notebook paper with the ingredients written in pencil so faded I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out the handwriting. But no. “Oh, it’s on the back of the package.”
On. The. Back. Of. The. Package?! The bag of cranberries?
It’s not a family recipe?!
I feel cheated. Although I should have known. My family has a history of tricking me with “secret family recipes.” My favorite childhood chocolate chip cookie made by my dad was from the back of the package too.
Adapted from the back of the Ocean Spray bag of fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 stick cinnamon
1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed, sorted and drained
zest and juice from one orange
Combine water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan and bring to boil for five minutes. Add the cranberries, the orange juice and zest and return to boil, stirring occasionally until the berries start to burst. Once they begin popping, you can help them along by pressing them to the sides of the pan with a spoon. You don’t need to pop each berry – I like leaving a few unpopped since it adds texture and it reminds the eater that this isn’t canned cranberry sauce!
Remove the sauce from the heat and pour into the dish you’re going to serve it in. Cover the top of the sauce with cling wrap, pressing down on the top to remove all air bubbles. This prevents a layer of foam from forming. Let the sauce cool completely at room temperature before refrigerating. If you don’t let the dish cool completely, it won’t gel correctly in the refrigerator. When it’s completely cool, refrigerate it, with the cling wrap still covering it, until serving time.