I come from a cranberry-friendly family. As a kid, my mom announced the arrival of Thanksgiving by baking cranberry muffins. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, crumbly muffins speckled with cranberries and sporting a sugar-y top were a regular snack. Our Thanksgiving table was often dressed with the cranberry sauce from a can, and our fridge always contained a gallon of cranberry juice. To this day, my sister, mother, and grandma can be found clutching their cranberry & sodas as a pre-dinner cocktail — no vodka for them. Not me. I hate cranberry juice. As for the muffins, I would only eat the sugar top, hating the astringency of the berries. That gelatinous mound of ringed sauce never appealed to me either.
As an adult, of course, my palate changed. In my mid-20s, and hosting one of my first Thanksgiving dinners, I opted for fresh cranberry sauce and followed a recipe to the ‘t’, curious at the outcome. The tart acidity from the fresh cranberries was the perfect counterpoint to an otherwise rich meal. Every year since, I have made my own version of cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving table, loving it. I also make a habit to purchase a box of cranberries each year for preserving and pantry-stocking. As a short-season crop available only once a year, it is best to stockpile and build reserves.
In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with local farms galore and fresh-from-the-field offerings nearly year-round. One of these is cranberries. The southern coast of Washington is home to several cranberry bogs and the state ranks fifth in the country for cranberry production. Although their acidity and tartness often gives cranberries a bad name, with a little sweetening they offer a palate-cleansing acid perfect for a holiday spread. This year, make a commitment to eat local for Thanksgiving and try this sugar-spiked relish or spicy salsa.
Toasted Pecan & Cranberry Relish
This recipe is a traditional Thanksgiving side dish of cranberry sauce, embellished with the addition of toasted nuts. Cranberries and pecans are great together, but pistachios are equally delicious. Cranberries are quite tart (and I like them that way), but feel free to add more sugar to taste. This relish is wonderful used as jam, and even better when served as an appetizer alongside a delicate soft cheese like brie or camembert. Try locally produced Kurtwood Dinah’s Cheese for the ultimate local taste adventure.
Makes 2 pints
4 cups cranberries (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
½ cup currants
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped
In a large saucepan, combine cranberries, water, sugar, and currants and set over medium heat. Zest orange into saucepan. Using a chef knife, trim all the pith from the remaining orange and chop the flesh roughly. Add expelled juice and orange flesh to the pot. Cook mixture for about 20 minutes, until cranberries begin to pop and relish turns thick. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar, if you like. Add toasted pecans and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.
Fill jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.
Apple Cranberry Salsa
This salsa adds some spice to the table at Thanksgiving and is a light and healthy appetizer that is perfect for starting the meal. Serve with grilled crostini or homemade tortilla chips. You can double the batch and save extra for your pantry (using the water bath method) or make it in advance and store it in the fridge for the Thanksgiving table.
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 apples, cored and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds & ribs removed, diced
1½ cups water
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
4 cups (1.25 pounds) rinsed, fresh whole cranberries
In large pot, add onion, apples, jalapeno, water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and honey and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cooking for five minutes, or until onions are just cooked through and translucent. Add cranberries and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, just until cranberries start to break down and apples are cooked, but still firm.
Remove from heat and add salsa to clean jars. On a folded-over dish towel (for padding), strongly tap the bottom of the jar on the counter to help pack down the salsa. Re-fill the jar, if need be, leaving ½-inch of head space. Water bath can for 10 minutes.
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