Homemade Cranberry Sauce

It just so happens that this was the year I was going to attempt something at least resembling a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Still no turkey, but I’m kind of against turkey on Thanksgiving. I was going to try to roast a nice haddock or other white fish. With homemade cranberry sauce, a baked bean dish, a corn bread, and roasted veggies. Maybe it doesn’t sound like your Thanksgiving dinner, but it sounds particularly New England-y to me.

The original celebrators of Thanksgiving would have had wild turkeys and other, smaller fowl, of course, and wild game (venison, rabbit), and also the bounty of the rivers and ocean — eels, fish, clams, and lobster. (Although at the time, lobster was thought fit only for widows, orphans, and criminals to eat.) Native flint corn, or maize, would have been available as a pudding, porridge, or bread, and baked beans are *the* Puritan dish. Pumpkins (and presumably other squash) would have been around but no wheat flour to make a crust with, so while this rules out pumpkin pie (more’s the pity), I don’t think it rules out roasted and mashed squash as a side dish. Sweet potatoes wouldn’t have arrived from the Caribbean yet, but maybe I’d bend a few details, after all I’m from the twenty-first century and can do what I want. Carrots came from Asia and Europe, so let’s pretend the enterprising Pilgrims had some carrot seeds with them, and had had a good root harvest in 1621.

Some culinary historians say that there would not have been cranberry sauce at the original Thanksgiving, because it was not until 50 years later that an Englishman wrote of boiling cranberries with sugar to make a sauce, but I’m pretty sure that the technique arose earlier than that 50 years implies. That, and try to separate me from cranberry sauce and you may lose a finger.

This had been my Thanksgiving plan, but it just happens that we’re going to Pennsylvania for the holiday weekend instead. I’d rather had my heart set on my own homemade cranberry sauce, though, so I volunteered to make a batch, as well as cookies (cardamom shortbread), and I’ll make some bread, too (brown bread). So today I am making and canning some chai-orange whole cranberry sauce, which is way better than anything that ever came out of a can. I’ve never canned cranberry sauce before, but if it works out it will be a huge success, because it means I can make the dish well in advance and not have to worry about keeping it refrigerated, or making it at the last minute while the rest of Thanksgiving preparations carry on. I can just pack my three 2-cup jars and drive off to Pennsylvania with one less thing on my mind.

All the sauce is is water, sugar, chai tea bags, cranberries, and orange juice. Dead simple. Why don’t more people make their own cranberry sauce? You can make it fresh as many as 4 days in advance, if you keep it covered in the refrigerator.

The hardest part about canning is not the technique, which once you’ve mastered can be applied almost universally to other canning pursuits; it’s waiting for the lids to pop. I heard one, maybe two of my three lids pop, and I had to force myself to leave the kitchen to avoid poking at them until they are completely cooled and have had a chance to take care of themselves. I really, REALLY want to give them a gentle wiggle and see if they’re sealed. But sometimes it takes a while for the lids to seal, and I’d hate to disrupt the process. As long as they’re sealed by noon tomorrow, that’s all that matters. And that will be one batch of cranberry sauce down, one — for my best friend’s fiance’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner — to go. And then maybe after the holiday I will knock out another batch or two, for my own private stash. Gosh, I’m optimistic, aren’t I? I haven’t even made sure the first batch is a success, and I’m planning three more! They’re ruby red and lovely to look at, and I just CAN’T HELP MYSELF.

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