What family holiday would be complete without a bit of controversial disagreement?
Doesn’t matter how much you love them and how well you get along with them all – when the dining room table is set and the extended family is all in the same room together for the first time in close to a year, all bets are off. Adult siblings turn on one another, while younger brothers and sisters gang up on their opposing cousins; aunts and uncles argue politics, religion, and everything in-between with nephews, nieces, and in-laws; grandparents recite embarrassing stories about their children, who pass it on with tales of their own youngsters; and through it all, we share communion and the wine flows like water.
Gotta love the holidays, don’t you?
Thanksgiving is no exception to the rule. In fact, Thanksgiving is something of the “gateway” holiday, the test run for the big holiday season barely a month away when things really get testy. But what makes Thanksgiving truly stand out in this arena is not only the inevitable family drama, but the added controversy surrounding food – one dish in particular.
Turkey is an undeniable part of the holiday; turkey and Thanksgiving go together like peanut butter and chocolate. And I don’t know anyone who will argue against the presence of some delicious mashed potatoes and dinner rolls being passed around. But one of the most highly polarized Thanksgiving dishes is of course the cranberry sauce. You either love it, or hate it.
There is no middle ground, at least not that I’ve ever encountered. And from a certain point of view, I can understand. When most people hear the phrase “Thanksgiving cranberry sauce”, their brains conjure up images akin to this:
Sad to see this train of thought become so common place.
But as my readers will know, this won’t do. I don’t do canned cranberry crap. Instead, this year we’re going to turn a bland piece of table tradition into something delicious that will leave your dinner guests begging for seconds. This year, we’re going to introduce them to Cranberry Relish.
Looking at the cranberry’s history and origin, it’s surprising to me that it’s not a more common sight at the Thanksgiving table. By all rights, just about any cranberry dish should be just as much a staple of the holiday as turkey and pumpkin pie.
Native to North America, cranberries were introduced to early settlers by the Native Americans. Right before we were kind enough to introduce them to a lovely boat full of smallpox blankets.
By this time, the Algonquian people had long been using the berries for a wide variety of purposes. Besides eating the cranberries plain, they used the fruit in the production of Pemmican (the world’s original energy bar), as well as utilizing it for dyes and treating wounds. I can’t personally recommend rubbing cranberry juice into your next paper cut of course, but hey – the Native Americans seemed to know what they were doing for the most part, so who knows?
Naturally, when early European settlers arrived in what would one day become the Massachusetts area, the native tribes were quick to introduce the new arrivals to the wonders of the cranberry, something which historians believe may have helped stave off starvation to a group of people in a strange new land. Little surprise that the people of this area were among the first to incorporate cranberries into traditional Thanksgiving Day feasts.
Without a time machine, we can’t of course verify if cranberries were actually served at the very first Thanksgiving dinner table, but it’s not exactly much of a stretch to think so. Sure, the peace treaties may not have stuck, but that’s no reason we can’t celebrate and be thankful today.
Whatever else may have happened, cranberries and turkey have stood the test of time. Which is why it’s so sad to watch such a delicious piece of tradition reduced to a disgusting glob of flavorless canned jell-o. Let’s see if we can’t fix that, shall we?
Making your own flavorful homemade cranberry sauce is easy and fast:
(Total cook time: 10-15 Min.)
First, before we even get into the recipe, let’s talk equipment:
- Medium sauce pan
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring cups & measuring spoons
- Large Tupperware container w/ lid
Alright, so now you’ve checked and made sure that you have all of the above, now we can check the pantry for the following:
- Cranberries, frozen & whole – 24 oz.
- Apple juice – 1 ½ cups
- Sugar – 1 cup
- Cinnamon – ½ teaspoon
- Nutmeg – ½ teaspoon
- Cloves, ground (dash)
- Golden raisins – 1 cup
- Pecans, chopped – 1 cup
Now I have to admit, once you have the ingredients measured out and ready, the recipe pretty much spells itself out, but I know that someone out there will inevitably manage to set a metal pan of frozen cranberries on fire otherwise, so let’s take this one step at a time.
First, put together the apple juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into your sauce pan and stir continuously over medium heat. Keep everything moving around until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Now, crank up the heat and add the frozen cranberries and raisins to the mix. Let everything come up to a boil, then bring the heat back down and keep stirring until all the cranberries have popped – it will only take a couple of minutes.
And really, we’re almost done. All that remains now is to take the pan off the heat, stir in your chopped pecans, and then transfer everything to a large covered container. Set this in your fridge and let chill well before serving.
And…yeah, that’s about all there is to it.
This cranberry relish works great as a side dish, a dessert, or even as a post-Thanksgiving leftovers breakfast the next morning. You can eat it plain, use it as a topping for pie or ice cream if you’re going the dessert route or – and I have seen some people do this – use it in place of gravy on your roast turkey. Really, you’re only limited by your own imagination, taste buds, and sensibilities of your dinner guests.
However you choose to serve it, you’re guaranteed to finally have a cranberry dish at your Thanksgiving table that the family will actually enjoy digging into.