This is a jellied cranberry sauce. It’s an American tradition. Like so many American traditions, including Thanksgiving itself, its existence is controversial. It is a feat of engineering. It is a culinary wonder. It is an abomination, some say, to slander the good reputation of the cranberry.
Thanksgiving will be different this year, as we observe from the relative safety of our separate pods. But the jellied cranberry sauce will look exactly the same. It’s always like that. It may waver, in these tumultuous times, but it will never break.
And yet, jellied cranberry sauce is a substance that defies easy categorization.
What is cranberry jelly sauce and is it a sauce?
No also yes. By any standard definition of the category, jellied cranberry sauce would not qualify as a “sauce”. A sauce, according to What’s Cooking America, the “country’s most reliable culinary resource since 1997” (according to herself), is a “liquid or semi-liquid [food] designed to make other foods look, smell and taste better, and therefore be easier to digest and more beneficial. Wikipedia, my most trusted personal culinary resource, accepted that “sauces are not normally consumed on their own” and that a liquid component is essential.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce – that majestic, hectic store-bought log – doesn’t meet those criteria: it’s clearly a solid. In fact, one of its main characteristics is that it does not bleed, unwantedly, in other parts of a meal. Indeed, it is a solid, which, by crowdsourcing definition, disqualifies it from the true sauce-hood, while differentiating it from its purer brother: the whole cranberry sauce.
The whole cranberry sauce is what you probably would, if you followed the recipe on the back of a bag of whole cranberries, although it can also be bought in box. Unlike the shaking cranberry towers, the whole berry version can be spooned, like a sauce, over other meal items. It’s the whole berry version that is “cranberry sauce”. Jelly Cylinder is only referred to as a sauce by relation, like an inherited candidate at Yale.
Still, it’s loved – not as a sauce, exactly, but as a full-fledged food group. Indeed, it’s so different from the whole berry version that many Thanksgiving hosts serve both, in two separate dishes, side by side. And deep down, they’re not that different after all: whole cranberry sauce does indeed involve whole berries. Jellied Cranberry Sauce goes through much the same process, but it is heavily filtered, removing elements from nature – skin, seeds – that would hamper its perfect silky texture.
Where is he from?
The history of cranberry sauce – usually not in jelly – goes back to the indigenous people, who picked wild berries, using them for all sorts of things: textile dyes, medicines, cooking. According to the Washington Post, a report from the colonies, circa 1672, reported that “the Indians and the English use it a lot, boyling them with sugar for a sauce to eat with their meat”, although it has not come into fashion as specific accompaniment to turkey up to more than 100 years later.
In Amelia Simmons’ 1796 tome, American kitchen, she suggests serving the roast turkey with “boiled onions and cranberry sauce”. (As an alternative, the Post notes, she offered pickled mangoes.) But that only became a requirement of Thanksgiving dinners when General Ulysses S. Grant served it, alongside the designated Thanksgiving turkey, to Union soldiers during the siege of Petersburg in 1864.
“This kind of solidifies its place as part of Thanksgiving nationwide,” Kellyanne Dignan, director of global affairs for Ocean Spray, tells me. Cranberries themselves, she points out, only grow in five states, even now: Wisconsin grows the most, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state. . (Also, British Columbia and Quebec.)
All of this is just the context of what happened less than 50 years later: the introduction of canned jelly cranberry sauce, a testament to the possibilities of American ingenuity.
Cranberries are delicate fruits. They are “picky about growing conditions”, explains K. Annabelle Smith to Smithsonian.com. “Because they are traditionally grown in natural wetlands, they need a lot of water. During the long, cold winter months, they also require a period of dormancy that rules out any area of the southern United States as an option for growing cranberries. This reality has limited the possibilities of the cranberry market: there are only a limited number of cold weather peatlands to navigate.
Then, in the very early 1910s, Marcus Urann, a lawyer who gave up his early career to buy a bog of cranberries – and would go on to become one of the founders of what would become Ocean Spray – began canning the produced to sell seasonal berries all year round. Cranberry harvest takes six weeks, Robert Cox, co-author of Massachusetts Cranberry Cultivation: A History from the Bog to the Table, Smithsonian said. “Before canning technology, the product had to be consumed immediately and the rest of the year there was almost no market.” Then suddenly there was.
The gelled log has become available nationwide in 1941. The history of Thanksgiving has been changed forever. Ocean Spray, currently the world’s largest cranberry grower, sells about 80% of its jelly sauce for Thanksgiving week. (There are also miniature peaks around Christmas, Easter and the Super Bowl, thanks to a cult recipe from “Ultimate Meatballs. ”)
Americans love to buy jellied cranberry sauce
Ocean Spray makes 70 million cans of jellied cranberry sauce, which Dignan says equates to one for every American family. It is much more popular than canned whole berry sauce; three boxes of jelly are sold for each box of whole berries. Each jelly box requires 220 cranberries.
“The interesting thing about cranberry sauce is that three-quarters of Americans use store-bought sauce for their Thanksgiving,” Dignan thought to himself. “It’s really the one thing on the table that the majority of people don’t buy but want to buy.”
Making your own cranberry sauce is much easier than roasting your own turkey, making your own stuffing, or baking your own pie. It’s arguably even easier than making your own salad, which is apparently how people celebrate, healthily, on the west coast. It takes 15 minutes, sugar and a saucepan. Still, it’s our favorite thing to buy.
Here’s CNN’s Chris Cillizza, weighing in with passion:
The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery agrees, as does Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.
See, that’s what I mean. You think you know someone and then they come to you with a crazy talk. Canned cranberry blob is a @SenSherrodBrown thing too, and he should have told me that way before we said, “I want it.” Some things a woman should know early on. https://t.co/BIsgK1ckTX
– Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) November 20, 2018
Nowhere is it more true than in the Southeastern United States, where they don’t grow cranberries at all. The largest consuming state of canned cranberry sauce is Georgia, and while it can’t explain it exactly, it has always been true, Dignan says.
At a time when treatment food is on the decline, one would imagine that canned cranberry sauce would struggle. But according to Dignan, this is not the case. Seventy-six percent people buy the stuff. “I wouldn’t say cranberry sauce is something that is growing in terms of the portfolio – we don’t see tons of growth year over year,” she says, but sales are “surprisingly stable”.
“I think there is a nostalgia to it,” she suggests. “There’s something about taking it out of the can and the kind of noise it makes and slicing it and it’s very uniquely American.” They don’t even sell canned cranberry sauce overseas, she says; they wrap it like a spread, in glass jars.
The appeal is in its timelessness. “There is something about the fact that it hasn’t changed much. Even if someone doesn’t eat anything out of a can the rest of the year, I think for some reason cranberry sauce really speaks to them, ”she says. She’s not the only one who appreciates the appeal of sauce without sauce.
“How can you beat the tangy and sweet flavor of store-bought cranberry sauce,” said one taste tester at Bon Appétit. At Fortune, Clifton Leaf vigorously defended the ‘acidity-shaking mold’. The gelled slices, he writes, “go down easily, like a slippery, potent jam with a berry flavor and a smell of history.
Are there any dissidents? Of course. As there should be. This is America. “The wobbly crimson substance added nothing to my Thanksgiving enjoyment, unlike my mother’s lemon zest and multi-spice version,” lamented Gwen Ihnat at Takeout. “Once you’ve taken the time to make a cranberry or lingonberry jam in its place, you’ll never look back,” Jim Stein, executive chef at McCrady’s, says Food & Wine, offering instead a version with “fresh cranberries cooked in a little sugar, cinnamon, star anise and orange juice / zest”. (Dissenters love to zest.)
The exquisite beauty of the great jellied cranberry debate is that unlike many divisions – between families, between nations – it doesn’t matter. Celebrate your freedom. Dance as if no one is watching; love like you’ve never been hurt; eat your cranberries in the gelatinous form of your choice.