There is nothing like homemade cranberry sauce

I visited Vancouver for the holidays and cooked Christmas dinner (turkey, ham, stuffing, roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts) for my family. One thing is for sure, the cooking classes I’ve taken over the past few years are definitely paying off. I pay more attention, think critically and trouble shoot whenever I’m cooking whereas before I would just blindly follow a recipe. I can see why a lot of people find cooking to be so stressful and mundane. Before I would be so stressed out at preparing a turkey dinner that I would just be happy if I could get everything cooked in time. But this year, feeling confident with my turkey roasting abilities, I decided that I would give some much needed attention to an often overlooked aspect of the turkey dinner – cranberry sauce.

There is one short cut that my family has relied on since I can remember – canned cranberry sauce. It’s something that I never questioned but now I can’t help but wonder…is it really worth making cranberry sauce from scratch which you can buy it in a can at the grocery store for $2.69?

So when it came time to cook Christmas dinner, I decided to shake things up a bit and make something that my family has never made from scratch – cranberry sauce. I know it’s probably one of the easiest things to make but when you grow up in a household that has only ever had canned cranberry sauce, the idea of making it from scratch sounds totally foreign (ironic, isn’t it?). I actually got the idea from a co-worker of mine who was talking about her family’s traditional turkey dinner and how she is always assigned to make the cranberry sauce. When I heard this I said “You make cranberry sauce from scratch? How do you do that? My family always uses the canned stuff.” Her response “It’s easy. I just follow the recipe that’s on the back of the package.”

Well, it certainly doesn’t get any easier than that! Hence, I decided that this year I would make homemade cranberry sauce. A bag of cranberries costs about the same as a can of cranberry sauce but a package of cranberries will yield almost twice as much and the work involved is pretty simple. The result was no surprise – homemade cranberry sauce is way better! I didn’t even need to do a side by side taste test for this one. It was obvious. The flavour was tart without being bitter or overly strong and the color was a bright, vibrant red. The texture was also much nicer –  a thick, viscous, multi-textured jam-like sauce versus the mushed up, gelatinous canned cranberry sauce of previous years.

Plus we ended up eating more of the homemade cranberry sauce compared to the tiny amount that would usually make its way to the side of our plates.  At one point during dinner, my brother took spoonfuls of cranberry sauce and spread it over a turkey drumstick to which we remarked “Would you like some turkey to go with that cranberry sauce?” That’s when I realized that when it comes to cranberry sauce (and cooking in general), it’s worth spending a little more time, money and effort because the quality of the end product is that much better. More importantly, the homemade cranberry sauce added a new dimension to the meal which allowed us to appreciate the combination of flavours more. It’s also perfect the next day to use on turkey sandwiches or even on top of scones if you prefer something a little tart.

Who would have thought that I would learned so much from a simple cranberry sauce? It was such a hit that I had to write down the recipe so I can make it every year (in case the instructions aren’t on the back of the package).

Homemade cranberry sauce – makes 2 1/2 cups

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup sugar (white, granulated)
1 cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions:
Place the cranberries, sugar and water in a medium pot. Stir together until everything is combined.
Cook over medium-high heat, until the mixture starts to boil.
Once the mixture starts to boil, turn down the heat and allow to simmer. Cranberries will burst and release their juices as they heat up. Stir occasionally.
Continue to cook until most of the cranberries have burst and the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency. About 15-25 minutes. (If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little bit of water to thin it out).
Let the mixture cool slightly. Transfer into small bowls and serve.