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I am a great admirer of gelled and gelatinous things--gummy worms, Jello salad, even yucky aspic--so believe me, I love the sight of that can-shaped jiggle of ridged ruby tartness unmolded onto a plate. I like the way it slices up into firm, cloudy-red disks; I like the way the flavor is always exactly how you remembered it; I like its absolute lack of pretension and its generous offer of ease: "Get the can opener!" it beckons. "There. Cross one thing off your list."
However, I come from a family whose sole religious practice seems to involve Thanksgiving recipes. All of a sudden, my secular people go all orthodox, and everything has to be exactly the same as it always has been, since perhaps the time that the Jews were staggering across the desert in flight, schlepping sacks not of Ocean Spray cans, no no, but of this exact recipe for this exact homemade cranberry sauce. It's the same with the stuffing. The mashed potatoes. The pecan pie. The mandatory absence of pumpkin pie (which is sad, since I love it). In fact, a friend just called to ask what she could bring to dinner, and I said, "Oh great! Well not the turkey, of course. Or the cranberry sauce. Or the mashed potatoes. Or the pecan pie. Or the stuffing. Or the crudites. But really, anything you like!" "A salad?" she said, and I said, "Perfect!" My family has no especial opinions about salad.
But this sauce is truly easy to make, and it's absolutely gorgeous and delicious, and it fills the house with the most tantalizing aroma of tart berries and warm spices and sweetness. Unless you let it boil over, like I just did, and then it fills the house with a burning-sugar odor that smells not unlike getting your teeth drilled. Ack. It's a recipe my mum read to me over the phone when Michael and I were first making Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves and our friends in California nearly 20 years ago. Written out at the same time, on the same 3-ring notebook paper, are the recipes for the rest of the meal. (We must have been on the phone for hours! My poor mum.) The pages are dotted with grease and gravy and batter, like topographical maps of feasting and celebration, and there are dozens of my notes from various years. The ambiguously enthusiastic "Pan drippings!" for instance (pan drippings indeed!), or the more straightforward "1995: 20 pounds done in 4 hours." But this sauce recipe is so straightforward that all I did was change the measurements slightly, since the original recipe called for a pound of cranberries. Maybe back in biblical times cranberries didn't come in 12-ounce bags. Ah, modernity.
I hope you are feeling all you have to be thankful for this week. I am, I am, I am.
My Mom's Cranberry Sauce
2 (12-ounce) bags of cranberries, washed and picked over
3 cups sugar
3 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
scant 1/4 teaspoon allspice
scant 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- Place the cranberries, sugar, and apples in a large pot, covered, over medium heat. Stir occasionally until it comes to a full simmer, then turn the heat down to low and cook, covered, for ten minutes.
- Turn off the heat, stir in the spices, and cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
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