Sweet and Sour

When the days get increasingly shorter and the holidays start looming near, few fruits are as evocative of deep autumn for me as the cranberry. Cranberries are quite often enjoyed year-round as a deliciously pucker-y juice and, when dried, as a salad bar essential. These ingredients can add a nice sour *pop* to punches or dishes, but taking advantage of the fresh berry while you can is a great way to cash in on the antioxidant power that cranberries offer.

Fresh cranberries have a short window of availability, compared to most other fruits. Typically the season runs only from October to January. Since they are available for a limited time only, these last red berries of the year are something I really look forward to as soon as the nights turn chilly. In addition to being delicious, fresh cranberries are hardy little things, lasting for about a month in the refrigerator, and much longer if frozen. One of the coolest things about cranberries is that you know that they are ripe when they bounce!

Cranberries are also purely American, one of the very few native fruits from this country, in fact. It's no wonder that cranberries have such a strong connotation with Thanksgiving, that most quintessential American holiday. For far too many of us, our limited exposure to the cranberry is as a jiggle-y sauce, complete with ridges from the can, on our Thanksgiving tables. I know more than a few food snobs who have a very soft spot in their hearts for the canned stuff, although I suspect family traditions play a large part in their nostalgia.

Cranberry sauce is infinitely more delicious, in my book, when cooked from scratch. Happily, homemade cranberry sauce is shockingly easy to throw together a few days before the big turkey feast - one less thing to worry about that day! The trend these days is to dress up homemade cranberry sauce with all kinds of flavors (like red wine, vanilla, or citrus), nuts (chopped walnuts or pecans, especially), herbs (sweet herbs like mint or savory herbs like rosemary), and spices (star anise, cloves, and cinnamon). As long as none of these flavors interfere with the cranberry mayonnaise I inevitably whip up late Thanksgiving evening to smear on my leftover turkey sandwich, I say bring it on! Cranberry mayonnaise is practically the point of the whole Thanksgiving meal in my family.

As lovely as cranberry sauce (or cranberry mayonnaise!) is on my turkey sandwich, it serves a plethora of other purposes as well. Any leftover cranberry sauce from the big meal is really great stirred into yogurt and granola for a beautiful breakfast parfait, or dolloped on oatmeal or toast as a killer jam substitute. Cranberry sauce can also be swirled into any muffin or quick bread batter, creating a beautiful red tie-dye of sweet and sour. It can be scooped in the middle of jam thumbprint cookies, and for a holiday treat, it is truly majestic when spread over a cheesecake (as a much more autumn-appropriate topping than the traditional cherry or strawberry fruit topping!).

I always enjoy the raw cranberry relishes that show up at Thanksgiving tables from time to time, but when I know I really want to get creative with cranberry sauce after the meal, this is my go-to recipe. I tend to have a sour tooth, so I have stipulated a range for the sweetener, in this case, honey. If you and your family fall more in the sweet-tooth camp, then use the larger amount. If you love sour, start with the minimum amount of honey and work your way up from there, adding a little more only if you think the sauce needs it. The secret ingredient in my cranberry sauce is apple cider. It reinforces the aromatic autumn-ness of the dish and allows you to use less sugar than typically stipulated from cranberry sauce recipes.

Fresh Cranberry Cider Sauce

1 (12 oz.) bag fresh cranberries

1 cup of applesauce

1 1/2 cup apple cider

1/4 - 1/2 cup honey

a pinch of salt

1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

1. Combine all ingredients together in a saucepan

2. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until you hear cranberries start to pop (this takes about 5 minutes)

3. Continue to cook, stirring constantly at this point, until all the cranberries seem to have exploded and the sauce is starting to thicken

4. Let the cranberry sauce cool and store in the fridge until mealtime

5. Dollop on any food that needs a little hit of sweet & sour!

***A word of caution... Don't make this sauce in a white shirt. Popping cranberries will stain!

***If you aren't crazy about cinnamon, feel free to leave it out. It is in this recipe to increase the aromatic qualities and perceived sweetness of the sauce.

This is a very adaptable recipe -- you can add any of the flavor additions mentioned above -- and once cool, it will keep well in your fridge for at least a week.

Happy Eating!



Jackie Frost lives in downtown Buffalo with her husband, where they cook dinner from scratch almost every night. Lebanese, German, Korean... nothing is off limits at dinnertime! She grew up in Michigan with a big garden, a father who loved to cook, and a mother who loved to can and bake. Her current favorite foods are blackberries and fennel (not necessarily together!) She is a chef at a private foodservice company in Buffalo.

Categories: Healthy Eating
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