Close your eyes. Imagine the slow, progressive, kerplop that the cylindrical perfection that is jellied cranberry sauce makes when in slides every so slowly and lands perfectly upon a plate. This imagery may cause you deep-seated ire or, if you’re like me, make your holidays feel more holiday-ish.
I love canned cranberry sauce. There is nothing quite like the smooth texture of an impeccable slice. Besides turkey and pumpkin pie, cranberries are one of Thanksgiving’s most emblematic foods. And if we’re getting technical, they are the only food that was most likely eaten at the original Thanksgiving feast. It is for these reasons that I give this garnet colored sauce its own golden rectangular dish whose sole purpose is to display this characteristic relish.
Right before dinner, I lay it on its side and use the indentations from the can as my cutting guide to make uniform slivers. I can usually get 8-10 portions, depending on the width. These slices make their way onto dishes right next to the turkey or ham and later that night they create a beautiful layer between the turkey and stuffing on the traditional leftover turkey sandwich.
But while cranberries are sold, served and eaten on Thanksgiving, most people don’t seem to really like cranberry sauce and put it on their plate out of some sort of obligation. It’s certainly not the dish that people beg for seconds. They usually nibble it here and there and then it is left to sit on the plate while all the other foods are enjoyed, and at the end into the trash it goes.
For me, I love it. And for whatever strange reason, I feel like it is my duty to get as many versions on the table to help increase the odds of finding something people will like. Along with the canned cranberries, I make a homemade sauce and then some other experimental preparation. Last year I made a cranberry tart dessert, it was pretty good, but only two slices were eaten. I’ve made cranberry relish with some cranberries, sugar, oranges and cinnamon. Not a hit. Cranberry compote had the same fate, barely touched. I’ve made delicious foodstuffs that include cranberries but I want a dish where cranberries are the star in all of their sourness.
Years ago I made a cranberry Jell-O mold. Partly because I was curious as to why they were so popular, partly because I love Jell-O and mostly because I’m determined to make something people will like to eat. I purchased a ring mold and I have to say the final product looked adorable. I mixed raspberry Jell-O with a can of crushed cranberries, crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges and minced pecans. Then I topped it with whipped cream. It was definitely a touch sweeter than cranberry sauce, but it still finished with a little pucker. And because whipped cream was on it, most of my guests took a big piece. I’m proud to report that this has made it into the regular Thanksgiving rotation, and a kid even requested it this year. So why not stop there? Because why do people climb Mount Everest?
Are cranberries really this divisive or have I not found the perfect recipe and why is this my pursuit? I really don’t know the answer to any of those. I’m a bit stubborn and I recognize that sometimes you need something a little acidic to break up all of those smooth, unctuous flavors that are what make Thanksgiving so comforting and to me cranberries are it.
If you’re a guest in my home you can always expect to get some sort of experiment. Some are good, some bomb, but sometimes I find a diamond in the rough.
A good friend told me about a dish that to her completes her Thanksgiving meal. It’s a regional Midwest dish, most closely associated with Minnesota, and it is called cranberry fluff. I had never heard of this before. I was intrigued.
She sent me her recipe and it only took seconds for me to realize that it is going to be this year’s experimental cranberry side dish. It wasn’t so much the ingredients, but the fact that she has such happy memories tied to this dish.
I didn’t ask permission to share her grandmother’s recipe, so I won’t. Instead, I scoured the internet sifting through recipes for this “salad.” Here is the one I plan on making for my lucky guests. I like it because it is going to be sweet-tart. Yes, I know, it has marshmallows in it, but I’m giving it a go. I’ll report back and let you know what the guests vote on.
Cranberry Fluff Salad
12 oz package of fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
8 oz can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups mini marshmallows
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Put cranberries in food processor and pulse until they are chopped. Put cranberries in bowl and stir with sugar and pineapple. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or longer. Then drain any accumulated juice. Meanwhile beat cream cheese until smooth, add heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold the cream into the fruit, then add marshmallows. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Lisa Sweet writes about food for the Leavenworth Times.