November is my absolute favorite time of year. Yes, okay, it’s my birthday month (two weeks to go!), but it is not just that. November is home to Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday. No gifts, no pressure. Just family and the food that warms our souls as we gather around the table. This month, I plan to take you through my must-have Thanksgiving recipes. And I would be remiss if I started with anything other than my ultimate Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.
This sauce has a rich history. Allow me to take you back to 2003. Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching but due to some construction going on, my family had access to nothing but a hot plate. Just a hot plate to prepare the sides to bring to my grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving! I was determined to contribute and so my mom introduced me to cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries as opposed to that drivel from the can.
(Okay, okay. To those of you who will argue that Thanksgiving is incomplete without the canned cranberry stuff that comes to the table still in the shape of the damn can, I am sorry. You do you! But I might be judging you from afar, just a little bit.)
Every bag of Ocean Spray cranberries has the instructions for the most basic cranberry sauce: sugar, water, cranberries. Boil the water, dissolve the sugar, add the cranberries, cook it all down. But oh, my dears, a recipe as simple as this has the potential to be so much more! Which I discovered as a newly minted thirteen-year-old that was popping every seasoning in creation into the pot. My mom even let me put -alcohol- in it (I felt Very Grown Up)! After much trial, error, and tweaking…I had a side dish worthy of a place at the table alongside my grandmother’s potato croquettes. For teenage me, that was everything.
Of course, the recipe has been tweaked and fiddled with over the years, but the general flavor profile has remained unchanged since it’s inception seventeen years ago. It has been on every family Thanksgiving table since then. Even when the potato croquettes stopped and my grandmother could not host us anymore. And when I had my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws. And the year I was studying abroad and could not come home. This recipe makes my kitchen smell like home and I cannot wait to share it with you.
We start with the basic method that Ocean Spray gives us:
But then things get a little crazy and over the course of cooking we will add:
- ground cinnamon
- maple syrup
- GRAND MARNIER (or other orange liqueur. Trust me. But if alcohol is not your thing, feel free to swap this for orange juice.)
- brown sugar
- orange zest
- a chopped green apple
Yes, it looks like a lot. But these flavors are far more than the sum of their parts! You get brightness from the orange, tang from the cranberries that is cut by sugar, and warmth from the spices. It’s like a delicious…edible potpourri.
I should not refer to my food as potpourri (I did try to eat that once as a kid and it was disgusting. Whoops.) Note: this sauce is far superior to potpourri.
The technique is very simple. Start with the basics. Dissolve sugar in water and bring to a boil in a large pot on the stove. Add your cranberries and return the mixture to a boil. Add all the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the apples and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let all of those flavors mix and meld and come together over half an hour or so. Breathe in the aroma as it fills your kitchen (or, in my case, the entire house) and allow it to ease you into winter.
Once the sauce has cooked down, take it off the heat and after it has had a few minutes to cool, stir in your chopped apples.
You can serve this warm or cold. Tweak it to your liking! Swap out the grand mariner with another liquor (I am a fan of brandy as well!) OH. I have an idea. Put it on these biscuits.
Be with your family (blood, chosen, or otherwise) and pass a bowl of this around the table.
The Ultimate Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce
- 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg freshly ground preferred
- 1 teaspoon Grand Mariner or orange juice
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar packed
- 1 ½ tablespoons orange zest approximately ½ and orange
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup optional, for additional sweetness
- ½ granny smith apple diced medium
- In a large pot on the stove, dissolve sugar in water and bring to a boil
- Add cranberries and return the liquid to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to low.
- Add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the diced apple. Mix thoroughly to incorporate. Be careful while mixing! You will hear popping as the cranberries burst and they sometimes will release liquid (which is now hot!). Be careful of splashback!
- Cook the mixture over low heat for thirty minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and in the same pot, stir in the diced apple.
- If not serving the same day, refrigerate immediately.
This November has started with an exorbitant amount of stress. It cannot all be fixed with a meal, I know. But I do hope that my recipes can be a sliver of comfort during these Insane and Weird Times(tm). My hope is that thing month I’ll be able to present the blueprint for a full table of vegan comfort food.