Cranberries; a small yet essential part of every Thanksgiving dinner table. It definitely isn’t one of my favorites, but I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving with out it. It would be like a rose that doesn’t bloom. With such importance on a small item, you still have big choices. Are you a relish person, a sauce person, or the canned stuff person?
I grew up on the canned stuff. Even as a young child, I found it a peculiar thing to serve. The house was extra clean, the table adorned with fine china, cloth napkins, and silverware from a mysterious velvet-lined wooden box. The food, all homemade, had been meticulously prepared all week. And there, right in the middle of this decadent table spread on it’s own fancy plate was this stuff. They called it cranberry sauce, but how could they? It was clearly still in the shape of the can. How could this be a sauce? And how could this stuff, this goop, this jellified substance be included in this wonderful homemade meal my mom had spent so much time making? All those questions disappeared after I tasted it, though. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted. How could this weird tasting jello bring so much joy?
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As a kid, it was actually one of my favorite parts of the meal. But over time, it got dropped from the spread. Even though my family is deeply entrenched in tradition, sometimes things change. We don’t always know how or why, but they do. My mom switched to making a homemade cranberry relish. It fit in quite nicely too. It looked much nicer in a fine china bowl and I’ll even admit, it tasted better (I’m not totally sure). And with it being such a small piece of the meal, no one protested and we moved on with our lives. Just like that, we had become a cranberry relish family. No longer would this “sauce,” still in the shape of the can, be apart of our table.
We had been a relish family for so long the canned stuff became a distant memory. Like a dream. “Canned stuff? That sounds familiar. Have I had that?”
It’s funny how having kids can unlock certain memories in you. We were at the grocery store around Thanksgiving and Ellie had asked, “what is that?” while staring at a can that said cranberry sauce.
That’s when it all came flooding back! Suddenly, I was seven years old sitting at the Thanksgiving table spooning out a hockey-puck-shaped canned-ridged floppy cranberry disk onto my plate, feeling full euphoria. We needed this again.
But nostalgia can be strong. It can really distort your memories and your taste buds. I needed to do a side-by-side comparison. Homemade cranberry sauce, homemade cranberry relish, and the canned stuff. What was the true winner?
The ingredients for the relish and the sauce were the same. And for the most part, they even tasted the same. It really just came down to a texture thing. After sampling many times, I think I’ve made a decision. I think the relish is more versatile with the leftovers giving it the edge to be better than the sauce. Now between the relish and the canned stuff? Honestly, the relish tastes better, but the nostalgia of the canned stuff is too strong to ignore. So at our Thanksgiving table we will have both!
So how do you handle cranberry sauce? Homemade? Store bought? The can? Or just a hard pass all the way?