I’m not sure if it was because I was a vegetarian and without the turkey, the cranberry sauce made no sense, because I thought it always came from a can in a fun-to-play-with but terrifying-to-eat cylinder, or because I just didn’t like it, but I never ate cranberry sauce growing up. It wasn’t until my first year in New York when I lived in a worn and infested fourth-floor walkup on Avenue B with my friend Dan that I had the real deal, and completely fell in love. Dan’s from Massachusetts and from what I understand, they take cranberry sauce pretty seriously up there, or at least he did, simmering, zesting oranges and carefully sifting through the rinsed bag for deflated or still stem-attached berries. This classic cranberry sauce recipe (which I am sure he’ll tell me I’m getting wrong) will always be my favorite, stirred into plain or vanilla yogurt or simply taken spoon-to-mouth. I hedge on the sugar a little, preferring it on the tart side, but I never skimp on the orange peel, as there’s a reason it is so often paired with cranberries: they bring out the best in each other. A few julienned or thick-zested strips in the sauce is one of my favorite parts; simmered in the stunning rouge syrup, they candy like an orangette, and are a fantastic surprise when you run across them in your hungry tasting. Lest you need any more evidence of its greatness, look how little we have left from a week ago.
The second cranberry sauce is Alex’s mother’s recipe and his family’s absolute favorite, despite my efforts to convert them to the back-of-the-bag classic. It’s terrifyingly simple (I’ll let you find out for yourself at the end, but promise that you’ll laugh), but I’m warning you, addictive. With mixed berries and walnuts, it seems more dessert than dinner, in my opinion, and the spoonful we had over vanilla gelato two nights ago was almost unbearably delicious. Alex’s mother told him she had a new recipe to try this year – something with jalapenos and ingredients that scare me – and he said, “sure, sounds good, but only if you make the other one, too.”
The final recipe is a new one and for the record, my husband was absolutely horrified at the thought of it, but I persevered. I mean, port? Love it. Balsamic? Ditto. Dried figs? Yum. Black pepper? Intriguing. Rosemary? Could be. Brown sugar? Hells yeah. All together with cranberries? Er, ah, …it took me an hour to even try it and even now, I’m just not sure I fell in love. (Right now, Alex is biting his tongue, but I’m sure it won’t be long until he says “told you so!”). It’s … (hang on, let me try it again) … wine-y. I think it would go well with turkey, or even some roasted potatoes. I’m just not sure it’s good for spooning, and if there’s anything the above two recipes should hint to you, it’s that I like the stand-alone cranberry sauce. At your Thanksgiving table, however, I’m sure it will get no complaints, a sauce for the sauced grownups, if you will.
Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce
Adapted from the back of the Ocean Spray cranberry bag, and my friend Dan
Makes 2 1/4 cups
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 (12-ounce) package fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed, drained and sorted through, removing any stems or deflated ones
Several julienned strips of orange peel, or thick pieces of zest
A few squeezes of orange juice
Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries and zest, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10-14 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few squeezes of fresh orange juice. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.
Alex’s Mother’s Cranberry Sauce
1 15-ounce can jellied cranberry sauce
1 15-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1 bag frozen mixed berries, not defrosted
1 handful chopped walnuts
Break up the jellied cranberry sauce into chunks in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Stir. Frozen berries will melt as it sits.
Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs
Adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2001
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
1 2/3 cups ruby Port
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
Combine first 6 ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard rosemary. Mix in cranberries and 3/4 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat until liquid is slightly reduced and berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Cool. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold.
Do ahead: Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.