Try these variations on cranberry side dishes

November 22, 2019
Last week I heard an interesting statistic. Of the people surveyed, over 24 percent said they did not like cranberry sauce, but ate it anyway on Thanksgiving. The results were similar for other traditional turkey day dishes, including green bean and crispy onion casserole, sweet potato with marshmallow topping, and (the biggest surprise) turkey.
While I happen to like turkey, some of those other side dishes are not among my favorites. At the top of my less-than-loved list is the sliced cylinder of jellied cranberry that my mother would slide right from the can to the plate, ridged canning marks intact. There’s a whole-berry variety of jellied cranberry sauce that’s also cloyingly sweet and equally unappealing.
Since may people consider cranberry an integral part of the Thanksgiving Day dinner, you can keep those traditions intact while serving something fresh, crunchy, only slightly sweet with a delightful tartness. Consider the cranberry relish in the photo, which combines whole cranberries, orange, apple, lemon, sugar and seasonings.
The most efficient tool for grinding the fruit mixture is a food processor. Unfortunately, mine had recently died, so I turned to my blender. I do not recommend this substitution. I tried to increase the efficiency of the blender by grinding each ingredient separately, but still couldn’t produce the ideal texture, forcing me to fish out some of the larger chunks.
A version of this recipe is usually printed on the back of the plastic bags of fresh cranberries, calling for an entire cup of sugar. Instead, I prefer to add an apple into the mixture for sweetness without empty calories. Seasonings for this dish can range from fresh ginger to lemon peel with hints of nutmeg or cinnamon. Substituting brown sugar is another option to change the flavor profile.
If you prefer to stick to tradition and serve a more conventional jellied cranberry sauce, consider making it yourself. The process is quite simple, and the results are prettier and more wholesome than what comes from the can. You can make it several days in advance and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Another option is to bake a cranberry sauce, giving the fruits a chance to meld their flavors with rich hints of clove. This can either be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve or brought to the table while still warm, which will truly confuse those accustomed to the chilled jelly. This is also delicious as a spread for toasted bread.
One of the reasons we see cranberries around this time of year is because the early settlers learned of the fruit from Native Americans, who were well acquainted with cranberries and served the fruit as part of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. They taught the settlers how to use the fruit for food, dye and medicine. 
Cranberries were a key ingredient in the original version of a high-energy bar known as pemmican, a combination of deer fat, dried meat and crushed cranberries. Cranberry’s deep scarlet color proved an excellent textile dye, and its astringent properties were helpful in treating wounds. 
While we no longer use whole cranberries for trade or to prevent scurvy on long sea voyages, the pretty berry has long enjoyed a place on our Thanksgiving tables.
Cranberry Relish
1 lb whole cranberries
1 apple
1 orange
2/3 C sugar
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t lemon zest
1/2 t grated fresh ginger
1/2 cinnamon
Zest a few slender pieces of lemon and orange peel for garnish; set aside. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until berries begin to break down. Refrigerate until ready to serve, garnished with reserved zest. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce
3/4 C sugar
1 C water
12-oz package fresh cranberries
2 t orange zest
pinch salt
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Add cranberries and cook until most of the berries have burst, about 10 minutes. Stir in orange zest and salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to serve. Yield: 6 servings.
Baked Cranberries
12-oz package fresh cranberries
3 apples*
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1 t lemon juice
1 T orange juice
Preheat oven to 325 F. Coat the inside of an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Scatter the berries in the pan. Peel, core and cut the apples into a small dice so they are about the same size as the berries. Add apples to the pan. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon and orange juice. Toss gently to combine and spread into an even layer. Bake the fruit mixture until thick and jam-like, about 45 to 50 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking. Serve warm or refrigerate to serve chilled. Yield: 6 to 8 servings. *Note: use a slightly sweet apple variety such as Fuji or Gala.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter