Today: 5 ingredients, 10 minutes, nothing but class -- a DIY cranberry jelly for anyone who loves the stuff in the can (and even the ones who don't).
Of all the controversies and compromises that might take place at your Thanksgiving -- the wisdom of stuffing the bird, proper nomenclature (do we have to call it dressing?), two pies or five? -- the most unshakeable loyalties may lie in the great cranberry sauce divide.
Someone is going to come with a classy crystal bowl of homemade cranberry relish. And some other nostalgic sap will insist that there be jellied sauce too, slid from its can, and set on the table cold -- just like there always has been. It doesn't matter how regal the rest of the meal is, that remorseless jelly will be quivering in the corner.
I have to confess: In my family, I am that jelly-loving fool. (I was afraid I was alone in this, but a quick poll at Food52 proved otherwise -- it ain't all highbrow around here.)
Guess who else is pro-can? Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the women behind Canal House, who inspire us every day with their unearthly lunches. On the matter of cranberries, they wrote to me, "We even like the canned variety unmolded right out onto the serving dish. A little retro, but Thanksgiving food holds so many memories -- it needs to feel good as well as taste good."
But just because it's tradition, doesn't mean you can't gloss it up a little. Maybe if our ranks had a better homemade version, we could let go of the can. In the new Canal House Cooks Every Day, Hirscheimer and Hamilton have done it. It tastes enough like the classic to avoid making waves, but more deeply flavored, with wine and spice jangling at the edges, to win converts on both sides of the aisle.
And it almost couldn't be easier to make. It's 5 ingredients, cooks for 10 minutes, and takes up a mere two inches of the cookbook. It also sets up all on its own: no messing with gelatin or agar or anything like that.
Here's how: You bring port (or red wine or Madeira) to a simmer with sugar, black peppercorns, and juniper berries; toss in a bag of cranberries to bubble for 10 minutes; then push it all through a strainer, mashing all the pulp through you can, leaving just skins and spices behind.
A generous amount of natural pectin in the berries, plus the sugar, will do the rest. The gelée sets up within a few hours in the fridge (or even at room temperature). Make it a couple days ahead and forget about it, while you're brining turkeys and staling bread.
You can even pull out that old Jell-O or steamed pudding mold -- the sauce will hold the shape like a champ. And no one will complain that the jiggle looks just a little more grown-up this year. Not even me.
Adapted very slightly from Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012)
Makes 2 cups
1 cup port
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon juniper berries
10 black peppercorns
One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries (about 4 cups)
Photos by James Ransom