Everything You Need to Know about Cranberry Sauce

CranberriesIf there are no cranberries on the table, it can’t be Thanksgiving, right? That’s true now, but maybe not for the Plymouth colonists. They didn’t have enough sugar to make the sweetened cranberry sauce that’s on every holiday table today. If they had cranberries at all, they probably put them in the turkey stuffing, which you can do, too, if you’re striving for a very authentic meal. At any rate, cranberries in some form are a must on this holiday, so read on for facts about proper preparation of the popular Thanksgiving side dish, cranberry sauce.



Cranberry sauce made from fresh berries:


The Ocean Spray website is just bursting with juicy tidbits of information about cranberries.

Here’s a sampling:


• Want to know if your fresh cranberries are truly fresh? Test one. A fresh cranberry will bounce.


•  Fresh cranberries are available from late September – early December. You’ll find them in the produce aisle.  There are 3 cups of cranberries in a 12-oz. bag.  Frozen uncooked cranberries are available year-round.


• Cranberries are healthy. They contain 10% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and a lot of antioxidants. Furthermore, they don’t contain cholesterol, and they’re very low in fat and salt. [However, they must be cooked with a lot of sugar or artificial sweetener; otherwise they’ll be very bitter.]


•  Fresh (uncooked) cranberries can be kept in the fridge for as long as 2 weeks. If you buy them more than 2 weeks in advance of cooking them, it’s best to freeze them, unwashed, in the original plastic bag. When you’re ready to cook them, don’t thaw them first. Just rinse them in cold water; then follow the package directions.


• Before cooking fresh cranberries, look them over and discard any that look shriveled or feel soft. Remove the stems. White berries are fine to use. They’re white because they haven’t been exposed to as much sunlight as the red ones.


•  Here’s a clarification of something confusing:  If a recipe you’re following says, “l cup chopped cranberries,” chop first, then measure. If it says “1 cup cranberries, chopped,” measure before chopping.


• Ocean Spray does not recommend freezing cranberry sauce. When thawed, it may be too watery. But you can make the sauce up to a week in advance, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.  [If you make it the day before Thanksgiving, it will last, in the fridge, for about a week. Cranberry sauce that contains alcohol may last for 2 weeks.]


Your Shelf Life Advice guru cannot resist throwing in her 2¢. There’s almost no cooking task easier than making cranberry sauce. (The basic ingredients are just water, sugar and berries.) Still, like almost everything else, it can be screwed up. If you’re not careful, you can burn the mixture and/or burn yourself. Burnt cranberry sauce doesn’t taste good, and burnt skin doesn’t feel good. To avoid burning the mixture, use low to medium heat (NOT high) and stir often.  To avoid getting burned by popping berries, make the sauce in a deep pot.


If you’re looking for cranberry sauce recipes and other uses of cranberries, About.com is a good place to start.


You may be wondering how long to cook cranberries to make them into sauce. Food scientist Dr. Karin Allen (a member of our site’s Advisory Board) explains that there are many variables such as the altitude where you live, the type of pot you’re using, the heat setting you’re using, and the temperature of the water.  Also, Allen points out, “If you want softer berries, cook the sauce for a longer time at a lower temperature.  If you want your berries to have more texture left in them, cook the mixture for a shorter time at a higher temperature.”


Cranberries release pectin when they pop,” Allen explains. “That’s what gives the sauce some body. One they have popped, you can cook for less time if you want a thinner sauce or a little longer if you want a thicker sauce. One caveat: if you cook too long, you’ll concentrate the sugar so much that the pectin won’t set up!”  


Canned cranberry sauce:


Thanksgiving requires a lot of cooking, so, unless you have guests who are bringing some of the dinner, consider simply opening a can of cranberry sauce.


• Canned cranberry sauce comes jellied or with whole berries.  It’s inexpensive.


• Serve it cold. It tastes better that way.


• Refrigerate leftovers, and use within a week or discard.




Oceanspray.com “Top ten cranberry frequently asked questions”


Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences

About.com: Home Cooking  “Cranberry Selection and Storage”



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