Thanksgiving is nothing without the cranberry sauce. This slightly sweet, slightly tart compote is essential at a Thanksgiving table, if you ask me. And for the record, I am not talking about the canned stuff. I believe in short cuts at times, especially around the holidays when the sheer volume of tasks associated with hosting a holiday meal can feel absolutely overwhelming. That said, cranberry sauce is not the area to skimp on. Fresh cranberry sauce is one of the easiest things to make and it’s well worth it, especially for the roasted turkey and cranberry panini or other sandwich you just may need the day after.
Cranberry sauce is one of my husband’s favorite things at Thanksgiving; seriously, he looks forward to it each year. That, and the whipped sweet potato and marshmallow casserole he grew up on. But don’t get me started on that! Years ago, when I was newly married and hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, I made my cranberry sauce. To this day I will never forget the expression on his face when he saw what I was making: horror, and that is putting it lightly.
I knew right away what the issue was. He, like many others, grew up eating the canned version. Lets face it, most of us know the canned version: the suction sound it makes when it is forced from its can, the plop it makes landing on a dish, and the perfect cylinder shape it keeps even after abruptly leaving its canned home. But this was cranberry sauce to my husband, and he had grave concerns about mine.
As well as I remember that moment, and bits of the conversation that followed while I was making the fresh cranberry sauce, I also vividly remember watching my husband have my fresh version of this holiday favorite for the very first time. It was, in his words, “life changing”. Honestly, he’s right. I grew up with the canned cranberry sauce as well and I never touched the stuff. I began making fresh sauce years later out of protest, and I never heard a complaint about it.
My recipe has just a few simple ingredients: fresh cranberries (do not use frozen or dried), orange juice, orange zest, sugar, water and vanilla extract. It takes about 20 minutes to make with some additional chilling time and you can make it days in advance. I make my recipe a bit on the tart side, using about half as much sugar as most recipes, because that’s what I prefer. But you can easily adjust the sweetness level by increasing the amount to sugar to your liking so be sure to experiment a bit when making it.
- 1 12-ounce bag of fresh organic cranberries
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2-2/3 cup sugar
- 1 orange, zested
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Step 1 Rinse the cranberries off thoroughly.
- Step 2 Using a medium saucepan, add the cleaned cranberries, water sugar, orange zest, orange juice and vanilla extract. Mix well to incorporate.
- Step 3 Place the cranberry mixture over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Step 4 Once you begin to hear the popping sounds from the cranberries popping open, use a wooden spoon to gently smash and break up the cranberries further. You will begin to see the cranberry sauce thicken. Note: You want the cranberry sauce to look more like a thick jam, it should not have large whole cranberries in it when it’s done cooking. This is also when you should taste the sauce and adjust the sugar level up as needed per your preferences.
- Step 5 Pour the cranberry sauce into a heat proof container or glass jar and allow to cool completely on the counter. When cool enough to handle, cover and refrigerate to set. This sauce can be made 5 days prior to serving.
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