One of the many things I love about Thanksgiving is the continuity of the menu across generations and regions.
Sure, every family and region has its own interpretation of the staples. But it is amazing to me that on one day so many Americans regardless of background sit down to roughly the same meal - turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, some sort of potato and a healthy dose of pie.
One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the cranberry sauce. It is one of the first recipes I developed many years ago when I was supervising the public relations side of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I called it a cranberry chutney instead of a sauce because it is so thick with fruit, spices and a touch of vinegar. It is good enough to eat off a spoon.
Just be aware: The flavors are intensely American and have no resemblance to Indian chutneys.
Even though most Americans serve cranberry sauce from a can, I urge you to make this the year you try making it yourself. It's so easy and so delicious, there's no reason not to. Even if you don't use my recipe, making cranberry sauce from scratch is well worth it.
And here's one tip regardless of which recipe you use: Getting the sauce to thicken and take on the right consistency requires that the cranberries simmer for at least 10 minutes. That is how long it takes to release the pectin - the natural jelling ingredient - from the fruit. As long as you cook it long enough for the cranberries to pop, you should be good.
Here's another benefit of making homemade cranberry sauce: It can be put together days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Another thing to check off your list.
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Cranberry Chutney With Port
2 (12-ounce) bags fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
Zest and juice of 1 large orange (about 1/2 cup of juice)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup port wine
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried Turkish apricots, cut into strips
1 cup dried cherries
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a large, heavy pot, combine the cranberries, orange zest and juice, balsamic vinegar, port and sugar. Bring to low boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Add the apricots, cherries and salt.
Making sure the cranberries don't burn, continue cooking over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries start to pop. Add the nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, then stir well to combine. Continue cooking on low until thick, about another 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
Serves about 16.
Source: Elizabeth Karmel
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Pear, Brandy and Walnut Cranberry Sauce
If you are making this sauce a day ahead - and you should - wait until just before stirring to add nuts so that they don't lose their snap.
1/3 cup, plus 2 to 3 tablespoon brandy, divided
2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
8 black peppercorns
12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 medium Bartlett pears, peeled
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and divided
Pour 1/3 cup brandy into liquid measuring cup; add enough water to reach 1/2 cup liquid total. Set aside. Place broken cinnamon sticks and peppercorns in center of small piece of cheesecloth or large tea bag and tie closed using kitchen twine.
In medium sauce pan, combine cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon-pepper bundle. Using large holes on a box grater, grate pears into pan. Stir in brandy-water mixture.
Over high heat, bring cranberry mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes, or until cranberries have burst and the mixture has combined, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons brandy. Let cool. Remove and discard cinnamon bundle. Stir in 7 tablespoons toasted walnuts. Transfer mixture to small serving bowl; sprinkle with remaining walnuts.
Serves 6 to 8.