Cranberries are one of those foods we don’t see much of except on Thanksgiving. There’s cranberry sauce to go with the turkey, and the rest of the year it’s just cranberry cocktail, cranberry muffins, and maybe some heavily sugared dried cranberries as a snack. The reason, of course, is that cranberries on their own are just too sour to eat. There may be other reasons. I remember reading about a study on whether cranberry juice prevented infections; the researchers had a problem with lots of people dropping out of the study. Maybe there’s something about the taste of cranberry day after day that most people can’t handle.
For whatever reason, cranberry sauce is a once-a-year dish for most cooks. Not that most people cook it themselves, when all you have to do is open a can. But unlike pie crust, which actually takes some practice, cranberry sauce is pretty easy to make even if you only do it annually. Plus, homemade cranberry sauce does not invite ridicule by taking the shape of a tin can.
By the time you read this, it’ll be Thanksgiving Day, but you may well still have time to make your own cranberry sauce. All you need is one part water, one part sugar, and two parts fresh cranberries — for example, half a cup each of water and sugar and a cup of cranberries. Yes, you can get fresh cranberries in the produce section, and they’re worth getting. If it’s too late, there’s always next year.
If you’ve got everything you need — stir the sugar into the water until it’s dissolved, then bring the liquid to a boil and let it stay there about five minutes. Add the cranberries very carefully — hot sugar water is painful if it splashes on you. You should probably turn off the burner before you add the berries. Then turn it back on, as low as you can, and let the cranberries cook slowly till their skins burst. It will take only a few minutes. After they’re done, you can let them chill in the fridge till dinner.
If you’re uneasy about the hot sugar water part . . . so am I. For the past few years I’ve been using an alternative: raw cranberry relish. This involves, again, two parts cranberries and one part sugar — just chop the cranberries up a little in the food processor, then stir in the sugar. You can add a cut-up orange,either peeled or not. It should go into the processor with the berries. You can also put in a few nuts, like pecans, if you like them. My family likes this even better than homemade cranberry sauce.
And, if you’re not up for anything else, they do make cranberry Jello now . . .