A fond memory of early Thanksgivings past was waking up at dawn to help my mother with her first foray on the day’s feast: making cranberry sauce. If the thought of that condiment making its way around the dinner table doesn’t stir salivation, you’ve never had cranberry sauce made right. We’re not talking here about the molded mass that comes packed in a can and is often served simply dumped on a plate, the ribbed impressions of the tin still visible on the hunk of cranberry jelly, corn syrup and pectin that it held. We mean the kind made from fresh, whole berries boiled, with a combination of complimentary holiday flavors, all cradled in a serving bowl.
While, for many, a traditional vision of the big feast might be based on the gelatinous form of cranberry, that custom was not even possible before 1941, when the canned kind was introduced. The berry’s connection to Thanksgiving is based on when it is harvested (September through November), so the fresh product seems a must. The red fruit grows on bushes in a bog, which is flooded at harvest to facilitate the corralling of floating berries.
From there, you have a lot of options for what to do with them. Our favorite is to boil 12 ounces of fresh, washed berries in one cup of port wine, a half cup sugar and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. Reduce the heat and allow the cranberries to pop. Then add your choice of spice: three tablespoons crystalized ginger, a half teaspoon ground allspice or a quarter teaspoon nutmeg, or a combination thereof. Zest a whole orange and stir its juice into the mix. Use the zest as topping. Serves eight to 10. We’re guessing you won’t have leftovers.