Ah, Cranberry Sauce. The fruitcake of the Thanksgiving Feast. Do you put it on the turkey? The stuffing? The crackers? Does anyone actually eat it? Just how did this end up on the dinner table for the biggest meal of the year?
Anyone who’s ever experienced any problems with their internal body plumbing knows that cranberry juice is a stalwart over the counter remedy when you can’t get antibiotics from your doctor quick enough. And that legacy of healing actually comes from the native tribes in New England that the early settlers met.
So whether you choose to believe the American mythos of the First Thanksgiving or not, there’s no question that those tribes passed on the story of the powerful red berry to their new neighbors before things started getting too tense. And that alone earns the cranberry a place on your Thanksgiving table.
So How Did it End up in a Can?
The way most families typically eat cranberry, er, jelly (sauce is a stretch!) has its own very American roots. The natives the early European settlers met had always harvested the cranberry by hand, and that method existed for the first half of our nation’s history.
But in the 1930’s, growers discovered that by flooding the cranberry bogs, the cranberries begin to loosen from their vines and float to the surface – like in those Ocean Spray commercials. That allows the farmers to use mechanical means to harvest thousands of berries in the time it used to take to harvest a couple hundred. And it required a lot fewer people.
Speaking of Ocean Spray
Even before they discovered wet harvesting, the farmer’s cooperative known as Ocean’s Spray had found a use for the berries that weren’t pretty enough to sell at your local grocery store. They mashed the berries up and pushed them into a can. The berries even helped, supplying natural pectin.
Once wet harvesting increased the supply of cranberries, Ocean Spray began marketing the canned cranberry jelly throughout the year (although the November sales are more than 4 times as high as every other time of the year combined). And that’s good enough for most people.
But We’re Not ‘Most People’
Thanks to Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, et al, the rest of us feel more than a little pressure to make an entire homemade meal – so we’ve got a fantastic (and simple) recipe from the Food Network for the Perfect Cranberry Sauce that will not only be Instagram-worthy, but something people will actually eat.
What You’ll Need
12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries into a saucepan
1 cup sugar
1 strip orange or lemon zest
2 tablespoons water
How You’ll Craft It
Empty the bag of cranberries into a saucepan. From those, take a 1/2 cup and set them aside in a small bowl. Stir the sugar, zest and water into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft. It should take approximately 10 minutes. Turn the burner up to medium heat and cook until the cranberries burst, about another 12 minutes. Bring the heat back down to low and stir in the cranberries from the bowl. You can add a little more sugar, and salt and pepper to taste while it cools to room temperature. Snap a quick pic to become the envy of your friends and serve with dinner.
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