Get a load of this startling statistic: Seventy-four percent of Americans buy cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving as opposed to making it, according to the folks at Ocean Spray. What? So only 26 percent of us are turning those bags of berries piled high at the supermarket into homemade sauce?
Come on, people! Of all the iconic elements of Thanksgiving, cranberry sauce is the easiest and fastest to make. There’s the back-of-the-bag raw version in which you grind the cranberries in the food processor with sugar and a chopped-up orange, and the cooked version, which requires nothing more than dumping a bag of berries into a pot, adding sugar and water, and cooking it until the berries pop, a mere 10 to 15 minutes.
Despite the ease of making sauce from scratch, I think I know the allure of the jellied canned stuff. When I was a kid, my mother bought it until she discovered what a cinch the homemade sauce is. My brothers and I loved to open the can at both ends, push the cylinder of jelly onto a plate, then gleefully watch it slip, slide, and jiggle as we carried it out to the table.
Once my mother started making the basic cooked sauce, we had to get used to eating the skins and seeds. I’ll admit that took some time. But it’s easy enough to get to the smooth, jellied sauce place. In fact, how to make your cooked sauce gel is the number one question asked at Ocean Spray’s hotline. Their answer is to boil the sauce for 10 minutes to help release the pectin. Push the mixture through a food mill to eliminate the skins, and you end up with a smooth jelly that’s opaque and dense with pulp.
But what if you want to make a cranberry jelly that shimmers with translucent light? Not a problem; that’s easy, too. You strain out the cooked solids with a fine-mesh sieve, add a little unflavored gelatin to the crimson juice for insurance, and chill it in a mold overnight. Unmold the sauce on Thanksgiving Day and it will belly dance better than the canned sauce!
What’s your favorite cranberry sauce?