I was living in North Carolina many moons ago when a friend invited me to stay at her place for Thanksgiving weekend. It was a welcome invitation; I had already passed more than one Thanksgiving in NC alone (most of my family was, and still is, in Michigan). There was of course the year I went with three other friends to see an Arnold Schwartznegger comedy, which somehow seems a contradiction in terms, and afterwards we went to Krispy Kreme, watched the donuts pass on the long conveyor belt like so many widgets in an auto factory and realized, as much as we liked one another, that we really wanted to be anywhere other than where we were. (This may account for my loathing of Krispy Kreme products, but that's another story.)
My friend, whom I knew from a lesbian group in Greensboro, (and whose name, I am embarrased to admit, has slipped from my memory), lived in a rented a "cabin" in the woods, a genuinely rustic place with an iron stove, a bed loft, and an art deco front door salvaged from a defunct department store. It was cozy, it was intimate; the space was filled with all manner of women, mostly lesbians, most of whom I also knew from the aforementioned group, on Thanksgiving Day eating, laughing and dancing. It's one of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving.
One of the things I that stood out the most for me was the pot of cranberry sauce simmering away on that cast-iron stove, flavored with orange juice and flecked with orange zest. You could make cranberry sauce? I had loved the jellied version out of a can as a kid in the 1970's (and it seems, looking back, that a great deal of our food came out of a can back then); but it had never occured to me for some reason that one could make cranberry sauce. The real relevation came in the flavor and texture: tart and chunky, it danced on the tongue, and it positively ruined me: I never ate cranberry sauce out of a can again.
Ever since then I make it a point to make at least one batch each year, and I always eagerly await cranberry season. Now I'm surprised more people don't do it; cranberry sauce is ridiculously simple to make. I've already made my first batch of the season, and it seems an appropriate entry in Cathy Elton's Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge . The personal challenge I put to myself when making this was: how little sweetener can I put in this and still be palatable?
Not as much as I thought I'd need, as it turns out. When I first started making cranberry sauce I of course used white sugar, then eventually transitioned to maple syrup and/or honey. But I also remember pouring rather liberal amounts of the stuff into the sauce some years, and I wanted to see if I could do more with less. The result won raves from both my sweetie and my landlord, two very particular eaters; I'm not sure if I'm prouder of the sauce, or the photo I took of it afterwards!
1 lb organic cranberries, rinsed, drained and culled
10 T organic maple syrup
1 T honey (optional)
RW Knudson organic cranberry juice (from concentrate)
2 organic valencia or juicing oranges
In a heavy-bottom pot put the cranberries and add enough cranberry juice to almost but not quite cover. Simmer on low, stirring frequently, being careful to avoid scorching; add the sweeteners and the entire pulp and juice of the two oranges. Add zest from the oranges if desired only if they are organic. Adjust sweetener to taste, simmer until mixture reduces to 1/3-1/2 and has the desired texture (I prefer mine a bit chunky); the sauce should have a rich rose-red color. Cool and refrigerate overnight; the flavors improve and mellow.