What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving at your home?
I've been thinking about this for a while, and I love Thanksgiving for one primary reason: cranberry jelly. Cranberry chutney, actually.
I can't even remember if we even had cranberry jelly on the table when I was growing up. I think maybe if someone remembered to get it, we might have had a can of the stuff on the table, with those distinctive ripples from the can revealing that it wasn't homemade, as if anyone could have entertained that thought.
And if we had it on the table, I'd eat it as an afterthought, maybe spreading a thin schmear over a particularly dried-out piece of breast meat to give it some life. So, no, I wasn't a fan of it, and it doesn't have any Jungian deep-seated emotional resonance with me.
But cranberry chutney was one of the first recipes I ever tried, holiday or not, where the results so greatly exceeded the expectations. Here it was, something I wasn't crazy about in the first place, and something incredibly simple, and somehow the tiniest bit of this and that transformed it into something I didn't see coming.
Fruit and sugar ... that makes jelly, yeah? Then add some onion. What? A vegetable in jelly? And then a pinch of cayenne ... whoa, did not see that coming.
On top of all of that, it was also trés simple and bombproof, impossible to mess up.
Cranberry chutney may have been the gateway drug that led to finally getting a decent set of pots and knives.
And even though I was probably 35 years old the first time I ever made it, now I can't imagine Thanksgiving without it. And I dare you not to like it, no matter how much you either loved or hated the canned jiggly stuff.
The Indians and English use them much, boyling
them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat,
and it is a delicate sauce.
—John Josselyn, while visiting New England 1663
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons red onion,
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp grated ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted
In a heavy saucepan, combine the cranberries, onion, sugar, ginger, spices and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until cranberries begin to pop—about 5–6 minutes.
Remove from heat and cool. Stir in pecans. Chutney is best if made two days ahead. Refrigerate.
Up next: the world's greatest Thanksgiving left-over sammich, the Fruity Gobbler.