Easy Lemony Cranberry Sauce

- a thing to eat on bread

Makes about 2 cups sauce.

An autumn tradition in my home, this recipe makes a thick jam with a lemony fragrance. Since cranberries (and lemons) are very high in pectin and this sauce contains no additional liquids (beyond the lemon juice and residual water) this sauce is quite stiff when chilled. At room temperature, it is spreadable, but will not run all over the plate. Leaving larger pieces of lemon zest is a nice texture change and offers an unpredictable pleasant burst of intense lemon flavor.

  • 1 standard bag of cranberries (about 12 oz.)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
Additional needs
  • 1 heavy bottomed saucepan that holds at least 1 quart, preferably enamel or other non-reactive lining.
  • Something heat resistant with which to stir. A wooden spoon or paddle, or heat resistant rubber spatula are ideal.

Wash and pick over the cranberries, discarding any that squish or do not float. Remove any twiggy bits. Drain the excess water and place the berries in the saucepan with the sugar.

Remove the zest of the lemon with a grater, zester, or peeler. If removing the zest with a peeler, cut the resulting pieces into narrow strips. Add the zest to the cranberries.

Juice the lemon, pulp is OK but remove any seeds and membrane. Add the juice to the cranberries.

Place the saucepan on medium high heat. Stir to distribute the moisture. Continue to stir occasionally as it bubbles and the berries begin to pop. Stir gently if you like whole berries in your sauce, stir more vigorously if you like a more homogenous sauce. The sauce is done when all of the sugar has melted. This can be determined by looking at the back of whatever it is with which you are stirring, or by scooping up a bit of syrup in a spoon. Ignore any sugar crystals sticking to the sides of the pot above the sauce line, and take your sample from the middle of the pot.

Decant and can if desired. It keeps a long time refrigerated, even if not canned. Excellent on turkey, as well as on bread, scones, etc.

note: I double checked quantities and have revised both the finished volume and the 'standard bag' size.

A phrase associated with the Paul is dead phenomenon. The song Strawberry Fields Forever ends with a cacophony of strange noises, and one can hear John Lennon muttering what sounds like, "I buried Paul". When asked about this, John claimed that he was actually saying "cranberry sauce," and that it sounds funny because it was slowed down in the final mix.

In fact, the Beatles Anthology contains a early, non-slowed-down cut of Strawberry Fields Forever, in which "cranberry sauce" can clearly be heard. So it looks like John was telling the truth.... who knows?

If you like hot and spicy foods, this writeup is for you! Unlike most cranberry sauces, this one is quite likely to clear your sinuses. Enjoy.

This sauce has the approximate consistency of a thick salsa, perhaps a little thicker. It is a wonderful condiment for poultry or pork, and it should go well with game as well. I’ve served it alongside turkey potpie and as a salsa in turkey tacos. It would probably be fine used as a dipping salsa for tortilla chips, too, though I haven’t tried that. A friend to whom I gave this recipe said it went wonderfully with deep fried turkey, and I’m sure the same goes for fried chicken. Since this sauce is a bit different from the standard fare, it provides welcome variety when you’re down to cleaning up those post-holiday leftovers!


  • 1 cup pomegranate juice, homemade or store bought
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar, a.k.a. demerara sugar You can substitute white sugar but I feel the molasses in the turbinado sugar lends another layer of flavor. In addition, I’m one of those people who despises refined sugar and avoids it whenever possible.
  • a 12 ounce sack of cranberries, fresh or frozen; if frozen, do not thaw them before using Rinse them well and get rid of anything you would not care to eat. Fresh cranberries, if they are good, will float. But there’s another test that is more fun: They will also bounce if good. To be honest, if I’m using frozen berries, I usually just dump them in after a brief search and without a rinse. I look at the fresh ones much more closely because a few might have gone bad.
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 to 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, both the white and green parts What I mean by a scallion is the vegetable shown in the topmost picture on this webpage: http://www.foodsubs.com/Onionsgreen.html (That is a very useful website, by the way!)
  • 1 to 2 fresh hot peppers, trimmed and minced WARNING! When you work with hot peppers, be careful. If you have never tried it before, you might want to wear a clean pair of rubber gloves while you work with them. Some of the hottest can literally burn your skin. Whatever you do, if you’ve worked with hot peppers, wash your hands very well before you touch your eyes or any… intimate parts. You have been warned! I buy whatever looks freshest when I’m shopping: Habañero, Fresno, cherry hot, Serrano, long hot, etc. I clear out the seeds and membranes to cut the heat a little (the next ingredient will make up for it) but you can leave them in if you wish. Or add even more peppers, if you wish. The effect I prefer is one that nibbles but doesn’t actually haul you off the ground and thwack you to kingdom come. Then again, my personal definition of nibbling may be different from yours, so beware.
  • a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce; see below
  • a loose handful of fresh cilantro stems and leaves, chopped fine If you are one of the people who has the I hate cilantro gene –- yes, it’s genetic, though I don't know the technical term for it -– you can substitute fresh parsley, oregano, and/or marjoram. Whatever you do, don’t use dried cilantro leaf because it’s just not the same.
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons of cumin, a.k.a. comino If you can find whole cumin, by all means toast it briskly in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat just until you can smell it, then get it out of the pan and crush or grind it. If you can’t find it, the pre-ground stuff will suffice.


  1. The chipotles in adobo sauce: After you crack the can open, take a sniff and you will understand what I mean when I say to use caution. What you want is 2, or more if you dare, of the peppers. I suggest starting with no more than two. Do not rinse them! What is left of the stem areas on the peppers are slightly tough, so cut them off. Finely chop the peppers. Add some of the adobo sauce to the works, if you dare –- I usually add a tablespoon or so. Refrigerate the remaining peppers and adobo sauce in a non reactive container (I use a small Pyrex bowl with fitting rubber or whatever lid.) This stuff keeps just about forever, but use your head.
  2. Put the pomegranate juice and sugar into a saucepan (ideally one heavily constructed) and turn your burner to medium heat. No, don’t stir.
  3. Once it comes to a boil, add in the cranberries and let it come back to a gentle boil – not a furious one. No, don’t stir!
  4. Let the cranberries boil for 10 minutes. No… seriously… Don’t stir! Don't be surprised if you hear soft popping sounds; that's the berries bursting.
  5. Pour the mix into your dish or bowl. Now you get to stir! Gently stir in all remaining ingredients. You might want to wipe down the sides with a damp paper towel to help avoid gook accumulation.
  6. The original recipe says to place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce to prevent formation of a skin, but honestly, I’ve never seen one form. Your mileage may vary.
  7. Let the sauce cool down at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate it. It makes about 2.5 cups.

Fine points

  • Slightly reduce (boil down) the pomegranate juice if you want to intensify the flavor. That way lies Grenadine syrup, but don’t go all the way! Maintain the volume of the final product.
  • If you are STILL a glutton for punishment and want yet another layer of flavor, you could always add in a dried guajillo chile pod or two, tops removed, seeds shaken out, and chopped fine or ground in a dedicated spice grinder. So far, I haven’t bothered, though it would probably be beneficial. If you have watched Alton Brown’s show on chiles, you know that mixing fresh peppers with all their ribs and seeds etc, fresh peppers minus those, and dried peppers makes for a much fuller taste. If you haven’t watched it, then you should! Anyway, I put in the canned chipotles because that adobo sauce just rocks.
  • It has occurred to me to soak the peppers (fresh and canned) in a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil, in order to try to pull out some more of the essential oils. I haven’t tried it yet, though.

Suggested menu

Source and acknowledgement

  • This recipe was adapted from one named “Tex Mex Cranberry Salsa” taken from the back of a package of Ocean Spray cranberries. The ingredients have changed, but the method is the same as in the original recipe, which is on Ocean Spray’s website at http://www.oceanspray.com/recipes/recipes/sauces/texmexcranberrysalsa.asp
  • Thanks to yclept, a) for helpful proofing and b) because when I read yclept’s recipe for cranberry sauce, I was reminded to mention inspecting the cranberries.

Enjoy, and Namaste!

Cranberry Horseradish & Sour Cream Relish

Sounds yucky, looks horrible, tastes divine!

Thanksgiving dinner on Annie's farm is about as traditional as it gets. Picture a sprawling hundred year old house set on a foundation of hand-hewn marble blocks, with several woodstoves roaring, a freshwater spring bubbling happily through the basement and several relatively benign ghosts haunting the unused back bedrooms and narrow passageways. This is all set on a patch of bucolic pasture land in the picturesque village of Dorset, Vermont.  

This morning, Thanksgiving day, the old house is flush with people.   Representatives of at least three generations are milling about and creating that joyful chaos we recognize as good cheer.  Babies ride around wide-eyed in snuggly backpacks, a posse of little kids run up and down the wide wooden stair case shrieking every time they find themselves staring into the yellow eyes of the stuffed Great Horned Owl perched on a bookshelf at the top.  Teenagers mill around uncomfortably, angsty with the passions of budding adulthood, weaving and dodging amongst each other in an eternal mating dance.  The grownup kids vacillate between hanging around in the kitchen practicing their adulthood, and leading groups of little ones on ghost tours.

The huge farmer's kitchen is the center of industry and Annie is the impresario commanding her troops.  The largest tom turkey you can imagine is perched, center stage, on the long kitchen island. Arcane final preparations are being performed prior to its departure into one of the two ovens.  Surrounding the bird are bowls of vegetables, pies of several varieties, loaves of fresh bread cooling on wire racks, a large pitcher of home-made eggnog and a large bottle of Oban single malt scotch.  

Annie's little army of helpers is diverse in the most pleasant possible sense of the word.  Old folks settled happily out of harm's way near the woodstove,  youngsters judiciously wielding large sharp knives on piles of raw veggies, men with rosy cheeks fresh from hauling firewood in from the sub-zero woodpile, flushed and fecund women brushing a wisp of hair from their face as they knead a pile of yeasty dough.  Over in the corner, Annie's two Indonesian exchange students observe these strange proceedings with bemused curiosity.

My family arrived last night, honored to be a part of the show and delighted with our backstage passes.  We even got to stay in one of the "ghost rooms." This morning at breakfast my son and I took turns spicing up our stories of suspicious midnight rumblings and creaking floorboards.  Annie was singularly nonplussed, the ghosts all have names and are treated with the same accord as the rest of the residents.  The only one here, corporeal or not, who gets special treatment is Louie, an aging dachshund whose back legs are giving out and sometimes needs a lift out to the porch to 'regain the peaceful feeling.'

My kids are variously employed around the kitchen and house and I haven't seen my wife for hours as she's off at Annie's brother's house assisting with ancillary baking or some such.  I too have a job to perform, and I'm jealously guarding it from encroachment by well-intentioned helpers.  In a thoughtless moment some months ago, I bragged about a wonderful cranberry relish utilizing horseradish, onions and sour cream. Before I knew it, I was charged with making this putative marvel of cranberry cuisine for the party at large, some thirty guests.  Now, amid the hubbub of turkey day, with my sensibilities mildly befuddled by injudicious nips of Annie's excellent scotch, I'm filled with self-importance at the magnitude of my task.  I've made this claim, supported it vigorously against the doubts of the traditionalists in our party and must now deliver the goods.  The scary truth is that I heard about this recipe while listening to National Public Radio in my car and I'd neither made, nor tasted it before.  It sounded great to me, but this is a tough crowd and my reputation was on the line.

There's a nice backstory behind the recipe involving NPR's Susan Stamberg's first introduction of her family recipe at the public radio station's Christmas party many years ago.  I can imagine what she must have been feeling then, having attempted to describe the merits of a Pepto Bismol pink dish comprised of fruit, milk product, onions and horseradish.  Then as now, it's a tough sell, making the culinary triumph all the sweeter.

Casting aside all doubt, I rose to the occasion, strapped on my apron and commandeered the food processor to the jeers and jibes of the kitchen crew.  The dish came together pretty much as described and, wisely as it turns out, I refused any requests for tasting prior to the feast.  Once the deed was done, I poured myself a generous tumbler of the aforementioned spirits and took up a comfortable chair next to Louie, glad to be out of the limelight.

I think the reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is that I have a lot to be thankful for. The blessings and gifts that life has heaped on me are humbling to consider, but pretty much everyone has something to be thankful for.  Especially here in America, we exist in a veritable embarrassment of riches and dedicating a day for thanks feels right and proper.  The community preparation of food also appeals to me greatly.  Credit that to the pleasures of life on a commune in my distant hippie past, and some innate feeling that sharing food is the very essence of the human experience. I like Thanksgiving in general, and sharing it with Annie and her delightful tribe made for one of the most memorable ever. 

The dinner was laid along a makeshift table, comprised of everything we could find with a horizontal surface. It stretched from the kitchen, through the dining room and into the parlor.  Even this behemoth couldn't hold everyone, so smaller kids-table satellites dotted the periphery.  The giant turkey was stationed at the end of the table with side dishes, condiments and bottles of carefully selected wine deployed up and down its length.  Before we could even wonder how this feast could be served, the plates began to be passed clockwise around the table.  Each of us simultaneously served the plates handed to us with the dishes close at hand, as we carefully monitored our own plate's progress, proffering selection and quantity advice as it proceeded.  Divine chaos, but somehow it worked.

I noted that my cranberry relish was getting pretty good exposure along the way and, after a toast by Annie's brother, we set to the task at hand.  My own first impression of the relish was horrifying!  I took a large forkful all by itself and almost gagged on the oddly powerful combination of textures and tastes.  It turns out that's a little like chewing a mouthful of Altoid mints, highly inadvisable.  By the time I had resurrected my taste buds with a drink of water from the kitchen, the first accurate reports were filtering in: "Wow, that's weird but great!"  The proper way to eat the relish is one small nip at a time, backed up with a little turkey and perhaps a bit of sweet potato.  The relish cranks up the volume of the other flavors in an unexpected and delightful way.  

Two pleasant hours later the meal was over and we sat happy and satiated, euphoric with the food, wine and companionship.  It was the most memorable Thanksgiving ever and the Cranberry Horseradish Relish was generally acknowledged to have been a success. 

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish1 

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed

1 small onion

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar ("red is a bit milder than white")

Grind the raw berries and onion together. ("I use an old-fashioned meat grinder," says Stamberg. "I'm sure there's a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind -- not a puree.")

Add everything else and mix.

Put in a plastic container and freeze.

Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. ("It should still have some little icy slivers left.")

The relish will be thick, creamy, and shocking pink. ("OK, Pepto Bismol pink. It has a tangy taste that cuts through and perks up the turkey and gravy. It’s also good on next-day turkey sandwiches, and with roast beef.")

Makes 1 1/2 pints.

- Happy Thanksgiving!


1 Susan Stamberg's Original recipe: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4176014, permission to reprint the recipe has been received from NPR, and is included below.

From: Permissions@npr.org

12 December, 2005

Dear Mr. Meyer:

You may reprint Ms. Stamberg's recipe and your experience with it in the website you note below. Please provide a link back to NPR.org.

Best regards,

Abigail Potter | Rights & Reuse Associate | NPR

Best Cranberry Sauce.

The absolute best cranberry sauce I ever encountered came from (of all places) a Japanese cookbook, which remade Thanksgiving dinner into a kaiseki tea banquet. Of all known recipes, this is a) both tasty and b) reasonably like what Colonial food tasted like.

Ingredients: Cranberries! Put them into a blender until smushed to taste (I like fairly coarse). Taste. If too bitter, add sugar (for extra credit, make it one of the various not-white varieties). Grate in a little orange peel.

Make agreeable conversation about how the original was most likely made with a mortar and pestle, sweetened with exotic flavorings from the Indies to make it festive. Notice how very few people actually eat it as such, but insist on it. Eat it nonetheless. Hey! Crans are tasty! Enjoy them!

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