Written by Pam Grant
With the holiday season fast approaching; our minds turn to thoughts of big holiday meals. Those meals, more often than not, involve some type of large bird as the main course of the meal. How can you make the same old turkey dinner with all the trimmings special this year? Have you tried making your own homemade cranberry sauce? What a wonderful way to make your friends and family feel welcome than to have a fresh new vibrant flavor on the table.
I am one of these people who would always say," No thank you." when the dish of canned cranberry sauce came around the table. I hated the tin bitter flavor that always followed putting a forkful of that jellied stuff into my mouth. The appearance left much to be desired too since it still bore the ring marks left in it from the can it had come in.
Then one day I was given some absolutely beautiful cranberries grown right here in Maine by some friends of the family who ran and operated their own cranberry bog. Since my only real experience with cranberries at that time was the canned sauce, my first thought was "What am I going to do with all of these things", but since I was starting to really try my hand at serious cooking by that time (this was quite some time ago) I decided to graciously accept them and find some way to use them.
I scoured through cookbooks and magazines looking for some way to use up the 5 pound bag that we were given. I found a few recipes using a cup or so but that wasn't using them up very fast. Then I came across a recipe for homemade cranberry sauce. What a notion. So even though I knew I wouldn't eat it, I decided to try making it for my family.
That is how my love affair with this sauce first started.
There are a few ways to make cranberry sauce, jellied or whole berry, with or with out additions like walnuts or pineapple, tart or sweet. This recipe I would like to share with you is my personal favorite. It is a sweet jellied sauce that has a rich ruby red color you have to see to believe. You may prefer to have your recipe tarter than this one. A good friend of ours claims my sauce is cranberry jam not sauce for turkey or chicken but to each his own I guess. Either way you eat it, on toast in the morning or with hot turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, there is no denying this recipe is WONDERFUL!
Fresh cranberries are available in most markets year round now but most definitely from October on through the holiday season. If you are able, I would recommend buying direct from the cranberry grower. These hardworking people take great pride in their crops and most generally will provide you with the biggest, ripest, reddest berries available. Berries are harvested in October in Maine, but may be earlier in other parts of the country. There are also some parts of the country where wild cranberries can be found. I have never used the wild variety so I can not say how they would be but I bet they would be good if you could get to them before the wild geese and ducks did.
The choice of berries used, is a make or break point to your sauce. When you choose your berries choose those that are firm and red. (Here is a tip: fresh cranberries will bounce when dropped.)
As you can see in these pictures unripe berries are pale and a berry that is gone by will be wrinkled and darker in color. Once you find the perfect berries they can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks before use, but if you are able I would get them fresh and put them up right away to get the best flavor possible. They can also be frozen but should be pat dried before using in baked goods.
Once you have chosen your berries you can use this simple recipe to create a new holiday tradition in your family. If you like your cranberry sauce more tart than we do, you can play with the ratio of sugar and berries. Cranberries have a lot of naturally occurring pectin. (the substance that makes jams and jellies jell) So there is no added jelling agent in this recipe. If you alter the sugar/berry ratio too far it will fail to jell sufficiently, so I would recommend altering this recipe in small increments to see how tart you can make it and still jell.
Jelled Cranberry Sauce
8 Cups fresh cranberries
4 Cups water
4 Cups Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
For this recipe you will want to use stainless steel, or porcelain cookware. Cranberries are extremely acidic and will react with aluminum and cause it to discolor. As proof of this take a look at the underside of the blade on my food mill.
I forgot to rinse it after making this recipe and let it sit for a few hours before washing. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Put cranberries and water into a pot and boil for about 20 minutes or until cranberries "pop" open and the skins break. They will actually make a pop sound if you listen. Overcooking cranberries will cause them to be bitter.
Then put this mixture though a food mill.
This process will remove the skins from your sauce. Note: If you like a chunky more "whole berry" sauce you can omit the food mill step or do only ½ the mixture. In addition, we leave the little seeds in our sauce but if you desire you can put the mixture through cheesecloth after the food mill step to remove the seeds. I find they add an interesting texture and dimension to the sauce that sets it apart from the commercially canned variety, but they are easily taken out if you so choose.
Return mixture to the pot and add sugar and salt and mix well. Bring mixture to a rapid boil. Be sure to stir constantly as this is likely to scorch on easily. Put in clean, sterilized jars immediately.
Note: This is the dangerous part of this recipe. This sugar mixture will burn your skin on contact so please use precautions against accidental spillage or splatter. This mixture will also stain EVERYTHING. Your counter top, your dishcloth, your clothes are no match for this red liquid. If a drop does spill on a counter or a shirt I recommend wiping it right away with a damp dish towel.
Once jars are full (leaving ½ to ¼ inch of space at the top of the jar) check to be sure the outside and rim of the jar is clean. If it is soiled with sauce wipe with a clean cloth and then place the lids and rings on the jars and tighten. If the jar rim is soiled and not wiped clean this may result in a failure of the jar to seal.
Next as seen in this photo
invert each jar so it is bottom side up for 10 minutes. This will heat the lid with the super heated sugar liquid. Cover with a light clean cloth to prevent the jars coming in contact with a draft or cool air which may result in jar breakage. After 10 minutes turn all jars upright
and continue to cover till completely cooled. Jars will seal as they cool.
This inversion method is used for a lot of high sugar content jams and jellies. If your jars fail to seal or you are uncomfortable with this method alone you can process the jars in a water bath canner for the recommended time as stated in a good canning reference manual such as the Ball Home Canning Guide. Please be sure to always consult a reference guide before attempting any canning project.
That is all there is to this recipe. Simple isn't it? This recipe will make about 9 jelly jars or about 4 ½ pints. I usually double this recipe and put up 9 pints. That way you have some on hand for that mid-week chicken. Why not make every day a holiday!! You won't believe how wonderful the flavor is over the commercially canned sauces. Make a new holiday tradition this year by trying this recipe. You won't be disappointed.