I often take advantage of shortcuts when cooking during the holidays. I think a pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin puree, is just as good if not better than starting with a whole fresh pumpkin. Cranberry sauce, on the other hand, is worth the extra effort to start with fresh cranberries. Cranberry sauce is simple to make, you can adjust the amount of sugar to your tartness to your family’s liking, and the flavor and texture far exceeds that of any canned sauce. With just a few ingredients and 15 minutes, it is guaranteed to be a hit on your holiday table!
Before I share the recipe, here’s the agriculture story behind the ingredients.
Cranberries: Cranberries are one of only a few fruits in the grocery store that are native to North America. Native Americans used wild cranberries long before Europeans arrived and the first thanksgiving was celebrated. They ate them fresh, dried the fruit for longer storage, and made tea out of cranberry leaves. The also used the versatile fruit to cure meats, dye fabric, and treat wounds.
You probably think of water when you picture where cranberries grow. Cranberries naturally grow in bogs and wetlands, water-soaked areas that create a transition from dry land to open water. But cranberries do not grow directly in water. Wild cranberries naturally grow right at the edge of the water, taking advantage of the rich and acidic soil there.
Cranberries grown for juice, dried fruit, and other processed foods are wet harvested. This technique takes advantage of the fruit’s natural ability to float. Farmers flood the bogs with water and use machines to shake the berries loose form the plants. The floating berries are then corralled together and loaded into trucks. Fresh cranberries, like the ones used in this recipe, are dry harvested using a mechanical picker.
Sugar: Sugar you buy for baking and other sweet treats can come from two agricultural crops, sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are a root crop grown in the upper Midwest. Sugar cane is a tall perennial grass grown in more tropical environments like Florida, Latin America, and South America. Although the plants are very different, the process of turning juice from sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sugar is very similar. After the juice is extracted, it is purified, and the crystals form as the water is removed through several stages of evaporation.
Lemon Juice: Lemons are the fruit of a small evergreen tree, native to Asia. In the United States, California is the land of lemons, producing 92% of U.S. lemons! Even though we think of lemon as summer fruit, winter and early spring is when lemons and other citrus fruits are harvested.
The juice of the lemon is about 5% to 6% citric acid, with a pH of around 2.2, giving this fruit its distinctive sour taste. Lemons are a great source of calcium, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, minerals and antioxidants.
Butter: Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease-causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer. The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 cup water
1 T butter
1 T lemon juice
Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Add cranberries and return to boil. Reduce heat and bil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and butter. Pour into a bowl, cover, and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving.