Canal House's Cranberry-Port Gelée

November 14, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

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).

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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."

canal house  canal house cooks every day

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.

Canal House's Cranberry-Port Gelée

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom




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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Regine
  • Licia
  • Bunnie1
  • witloof
  • Jleo
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Regine November 23, 2013
Very good recipe and unbelievably so quick to prepare. But most time consuming thing to do was mashing the cranberries through the sieve. One must be patient. I would say that i was able to get 90% through the sieve. I think this is essential to get a firmer set. I also felt something else was missing in the flavors. For me, it was a bit of orange zest. I will certainly make this again.
Licia May 26, 2013
This recipe is to die for. Never again will I be satisfied with the traditional cranberry relish. I have made it several times since Thanksgiving, even with frozen cranberries, to accompany pork, sausages and other dishes and it never disappoints. What an amazing recipe! If I could use it as jam at breakfast time, I certainly would....
Bunnie1 January 11, 2013
Can this be canned?
Kristen M. January 14, 2013
I asked Food52's canning expert, Cathy Barrow (aka MrsWheelbarrow) and she said this could be safely water-bath canned, and added: "I would process half pints for 10 minutes and pints for 15 min in a boiling water bath."
witloof December 2, 2012
What about a tablespoon of gin to substitute for the juniper berries?
Jleo November 24, 2012
I made this cranberry sauce using unsweetened cranberry juice instead of the port wine. I did add a bit (maybe a tablespoon) of sugar and also about 1 1/2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, teaspoon by teaspoon, sampling after each addition. And also about 1 teaspoon of grated orange peel. So, it was good, although a bit of a softer set than the canned stuff. I think that it had to do with the mashing of the pulp through the sieve. I thought I had mashed all I could, but there was more than skin and spices left in the sieve. So, if I do this recipe again, I am really going to be more aggressive with the mashing to get all the stuff through the sieve. Hopefully, that will make for a firmer set.
FrozenFoodie November 24, 2012
Did anyone else have issues with this setting? I made it on Tuesday, but it was still runny on Thanksgiving. It tasted so good, but was way too liquid to serve.
Kristen M. November 24, 2012
Sorry to hear it -- we heard from a couple people on the recipe page and Hotline that had trouble with the set, and several others who didn't. I'm not sure what the differences might be. If you try it again, you may want to simmer it a bit harder or longer, or to be very aggressive with how much pulp you mash through the sieve -- only skins and spices should be left behind.
FrozenFoodie November 25, 2012
Thanks! I'll definitely use more elbow grease on my next attempt.
Jleo November 18, 2012
Is there a substitute for the port? Recipe sounds so good, but need to eliminate the alcohol. Maybe apple cider?
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
That could work, though you'll probably want to decrease the sugar, which could affect the set. Someone also suggested substituting unsweetened cranberry juice on the recipe page -- whatever you do, you'll want to adjust to taste after straining. A bit of balsamic vinegar might give it some of the tangy sweetness of port too. I would make it as early as you can this week and pour a sample into a separate container so you can make sure you like how it turned out before the big reveal!
chefpatty November 18, 2012
I made this today and it is delicious. Williams-Sonoma sells the juniper berries. I poured it into a weck canning jar and that's how I plan to serve it. I'm also serving WS's cranberry sauce but that's because I work for them as a culinary specialist. And it tastes great. Thanks for providing a new take on cranberries.
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
So glad you liked it -- the Weck jar sounds like a lovely way to go.
cupubas November 18, 2012
Is there a substitute for juniper berries?
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
While not direct substitutes, some strips of orange rind or sprigs of a wintry herb like thyme could add some flavor and aroma in place of the juniper berries.
Emsbutler November 18, 2012
Where can I find juniper berries?
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
Juniper berries can often be found in the spice aisle at the grocery store, or at specialty spice shops.
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
Or -- as chefpatty pointed out -- at Williams-Sonoma!
sheimoon November 18, 2012
instead of a sieve can a foodmill with small grille be used instead? tx!
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
Yes, another Food52 member reported that she made this recipe with a food mill and it was a great way to go!
Kenzi W. November 14, 2012
Added to my Thanksgiving Menu. Bam.
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
Mine too!
Lizthechef November 14, 2012
Kristen M. November 19, 2012
I agree, Liz, Canal House = brilliance.