Amateur photographer that I am, I found trying to shoot cranberry sauce quite the challenge. Writing about it less so. Here's the column I wrote for the Athens Banner-Herald about my mother's cranberry sauce recipe, its not-so-original source, and its continuing ability to keep family dinner cordial. The photos are the worst I've taken in the while, but I figure it's best to post the lumps as well as the peaks.
The relationship between parents and their child's spouse is the least easily navigated alliance faced in this life.
One side is nervously letting their offspring explore uncharted genetics; the other must go full anthropologist, deciphering the sometimes unintelligible customs of a foreign clan, and trying not to get speared in the process. It can get brutal.
This clash of cultures becomes especially savage during the winter holidays, the first of which arrives in just three weeks. For those on either side of the argument, those that haven't yet capitulated to their opponent's standard of taste, Thanksgiving means suffering the slings and arrows of odd and outlandish cookery, stuffings and casseroles nowhere near the high culinary marks of one's own kin.
In my family, my mother and my wife, who spend the rest of the year as friends, become besties over a gravy boat of my mother's cranberry sauce.
The recipe is exalted by my mother's friends. My wife, a turkey-skipping vegetarian, essentially ties a bib around her neck and proceeds to hoover the tart, sweet and citrusy compote with a straw whenever the occasion allows.
A bit of hyperbole, sure, but the essence of truth is there. Not a Thanksgiving passes without a Mason jar of mom's cranberry sauce returning to our house after the big family meal. The next few weeks it is spread on toast, other snacks and leftovers. I'm fairly certain she secretly sneaks spoonfuls of the sauce without accompaniment, but I have no evidence, yet.
My wife, an accomplished pastry chef, gave me the idea to test and photograph my mother's cranberry sauce recipe. I figured it to be an easy task, one of maybe four ingredients, five at the most.
I was more right than I thought. She uses the directions on the back of the fresh cranberry bag at Kroger, my mother said over the phone. I was a bit distraught, but remembered some of my favorite restaurant banana pudding recipes are stolen directly from the vanilla wafer box.
But there is a little extra addition not called for by Ocean Spray, the overlords of the cranberry industry. By adding orange zest and juice, and reducing the overall sugar a tad, the sauce becomes a tart battle of sugar versus acid, possessing the right kind of zing to cut through heavy mounds of mashed potatoes and layers of sliced turkey breast. I added one stick of cinnamon just because.
I hope this cranberry sauce can welcome an era of glasnost around your Thanksgiving table, a simple device that certainly muzzled a cold war between my side (the Canadians) and my wife (the Alabamans), before anyone considered firing a shot.
Concordant Cranberry Sauce
Total Time: 30 minutes plus cooling
Makes 1 quart
2-12 oz. bags fresh cranberries
1 1/2 C. water
1 C. sugar
Juice of one orange (about 1/3 C.)
zest of one orange
1 cinnamon stick
Rinse cranberries and discard soft or white berries.
Combine water, sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice and zest in a large pot on medium high heat and bring to a boil.
Add cranberries. Return mixture to a boil and reduce heat to medium.
Cook for 10 minutes then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Prepare a week in advance and store in refrigerator.