I am passionate about cranberry side dishes at Thanksgiving. I love the gelatinous, tart, ribbed mass that slides out of a can with a delightful, suctiony pop. I love the homemade stuff, with its sweeter taste, saucy consistency and shirt-ruining color. I even love it fresh, chopped up with apples, nuts and oranges (or Heaven help me, a fresh jalapeño).
Despite attempts to popularize cranberry sauce for Valentine’s Day (really), it remains virtually exclusive to Thanksgiving. The seasonality of cranberries is a large part of that, of course. But my personal opinion is that it’s due to the fact that Thanksgiving very much needs something like it, something to cut through the fat and starch, something reliably bright and tart.
We know that indigenous people were using cranberries as dyes and sauces before colonizers appeared. While it’s possible this fruit made some appearance at The First ThanksgivingTM, it’s just as likely that it didn’t. They’re not particularly delicious right off the plant (I’m sorry cranberries! Pardon my slander!) Since they didn’t have sugar, it would’ve more likely been used for cooking sauces, and they had other ingredients more widely available. It wasn’t until 1633 that a recipe for cranberry sauce even appears.
But cranberry gathering – and then cultivation – really took hold in New England. Since the end of the cranberry harvest season tends to be mid-November, it was a very timely addition to the Thanksgiving table.
How did Ocean Spray rise to the top of the bog?
Ocean Spray was founded in 1930 by three cranberry growers who wanted to expand the market. They launched with jellied cranberry sauce, and farmers from across the country joined the cooperative. By allowing their farmers a part of ownership – and by innovating products to make the cranberry game a bit less seasonal – they became a cranberry juggernaut. Like many companies, they seized upon the opportunity to market throughout WWII by providing troops with cranberry products (they ate about a million pounds of dehydrated cranberries a year.)
And yes, their cans are packed upside down to keep the jelly whole and easy for you to remove.
Fun fact: ripe cranberries bounce. In the 1840s, New Jersey grower John “Peg Leg” Webb supposedly spilled a bucket of cranberries down his cellar steps. He noticed that they bad cranberries stayed put while the good ones bounced all the way to the bottom. He is credited with inventing The Bounce Test… which is still the method used to sort cranberries to this day! (The air inside them that helps them bounce also helps them float in the bogs, but unripe babies still make it through the combing process.)
Why jellied? Cranberries LOVE to gel! They have a lot of pectin (compared to other fruits), which helps the berries stay so firm and bouncy. When cooked, the berries release their pectin, trapping dissolved sugar, creating jelly. Magical! Wonderful! Delicious!
Guys, I just love the stuff, IDK. Apparently a full half of you hate it, and I just can’t relate.