FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
This year, as the Thanksgiving holiday nears, there are many things for which to be thankful. Families are coming together to celebrate together again after the COVID-19 pandemic made large gatherings treacherous for a few years. Traditions will be restored as we set our holiday tables.
Many of us will sit down to a festive Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole and my favorite part – cranberry sauce.
That’s cranberry sauce in a can.
Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies. I learned my way around chef’s knives and stock pots from my father, who was an Air Force veteran. (But he was a mechanic, not a cook, in the service.)
Before he died, one of the things Dad had the stamina to do was cook. His recipes are impossible to duplicate because he never had any. A few items in the pantry and fridge somehow became a delicious meal … that we’d never have again.
That led to me trying any recipe I could get my hands on. Cooking shows like America’s Test Kitchen showed me the way after my father died. Celebrity Chef Alton Brown’s brined turkey and sweet potato pie are my major contributions to the family Thanksgiving dinner.
One year, I even tried making a green bean casserole with a homemade mushroom soup base. I don’t even like green bean casserole or mushrooms that much, but I thought a fancy recipe with quality ingredients would make a difference. It didn’t.
The one thing I will never mess with, however, is the cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce is the gold standard. Cranberries are grown in New Jersey, and I’m a Jersey girl through and through. I even have a crystal cranberry sauce dish that I found at a thrift store that must be on the table every year with my favorite part of the meal.
There are recipes for fancy, homemade cranberry relish with ingredients like whole cranberries and orange juice. That is a sacrilege. Please don’t. I am not interested. Keep it away. My family is not interested in such fancy and unnecessary things. We don’t even like the canned cranberry sauce with the whole berries in it.
Now, I’m well aware that cranberry sauce is available all year. My mother used to serve it with breaded chicken, maybe because she knew how much I loved it. That tart, jellied roll of goodness just doesn’t taste the same, though, if it’s not accompanied by turkey, stuffing and gravy.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love to celebrate it. I love to write about it. I love to carve the turkey. I love making bowls of turkey leftovers and making a big pot of turkey soup on Black Friday. But my favorite part of the holiday is flipping over that can of cranberry sauce, shaking out the weird, jellied mold and making cuts according to the ridges left by the can. That’s when it’s time to eat.
My parents are no longer with us. My sisters and I carry on our parents’ traditions, especially the canned cranberry sauce. It’s like celebrating holidays while missing those who can no longer be at the table – tart but sweet.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and please send your cranberry sauce leftovers to me.