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Cranberry Sauce - Ditch That Can, and Make Your Own!

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

My mother made a unique cranberry relish. Really. I looked forward to it all year. It was straight out of the aqua-kitchen appliance 1950's food scene - it had fresh orange segments, walnuts and celery in it. And, kinda jiggled. She made it with an entire can of frozen orange juice concentrate. It really appealed to a little kid. And, oh boy, was it ever SWEET!

I can't deal with that sort of super sweet cranberry dish as I get, ahem, older. And, as I've gone WFPB (Whole-food, Plant-based) I've sorta lost my sweet tooth. I need much less sweet to satisfy.

Let's learn a bit about cranberries - Vaccinium macrocarpon are only one of three truly native American fruits (with blueberries and Concord grapes)! They grow in the Northeast (New Jersey, Massachusetts and Wisconsin) and the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon). They're harvested beginning in September. They don't grow in water - whatever that funny commercial suggests. They grow on dense vines in dry lake beds, which are later flooded with water so that the ripe berries can be shaken loose (mechanically) and float on the surface of the water to be scooped up. They turn from green, to white to red to dark crimson as they ripen. Lighter colored berries will have a bit less juice, but will have higher pectin levels - and make better sauce, since they thicken better. The darker berries will yield more juice and be sweeter. So, select on the basis of what you're using them for.

When you buying them, give the bag a once-over to make sure there's no soft or mushy ones. Keep them cold when you get them home. They easily last a month in the fridge, and longer in the freezer - like a year. Since they are only available for a short time in the fall, I pop several bags in the freezer. Cranberries are wonder in so many different recipes such as Chutney, or as a quick condiment/pairing with roasted squash or yams.

This is still an orange-based cranberry sauce. And, although I'm going to give you the basic 'recipe', feel free to experiment. I'll give you some ideas at the end.


Takes about 15 minutes to make.

Serves about 6


One 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries (don't use dried!)

½ cup fresh orange juice

One large navel orange, peel removed, roughly segmented and chopped

Zest of one orange

½ cup maple syrup (optional)

pinch or two of salt

In a medium sauce pan, over high heat, bring the orange juice, water and maple syrup to a full boil. Add the cranberries, orange zest, and salt and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and boil it gently for about 12 minutes. The cranberries should have burst open. If not, give them a gentle mash with the back of the spoon.

Remove from heat, and let it cool. It will thicken somewhat as it chills.

UPDATE (January 2022): I've decided that reserving about 1/3 of the raw cranberries and about 1/4 of the orange, adding them in just a minute or two before the cranberry sauce has finished cooking is my preferred method. This way, there are more nice whole (but cooked and tender) berries. It just makes a 'prettier' finished sauce.


Southwestern: add some of your favorite chili powder/flakes. I like the fruity Guajillo. Add some Jalepeños if that's what floats your boat. A splash of fresh lime juice seals the deal. Go wild, and add some Cilantro and chopped green onions.

Cranberry Relish: add chopped fresh orange segment, walnuts and celery. Grind some black pepper into the mix.

Apple and Ginger: Substitute the orange juice from the original recipe for apple cider (not apple juice). Add one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger.

Persimmon Cranberry Sauce: You'll be making me smile when you add one whole, chopped Fuyu persimmon along with the cranberries.

Warming Cranberry Sauce: Add cinnamon. About ¼ teaspoon. Funny thing, but a splash of red wine works with this, too. And, a few grinds of peppercorns.

Antioxidant Blast Cranberry Sauce: Add fresh blueberries?

BBQ Cranberry Sauce: Add about ½ cup each of ketchup, apple cider vinegar, a dollop of Dijon Mustard, and a splash of Worcestershire Sauce. Some of your favorite hot sauce will work. Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of Liquid Smoke.

Oh, and a parting thought: This is AMAZING as a stand-in for jam on your muffin or toast in the morning.

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