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What is Cranberry Sauce?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Cranberry sauce is a form of relish made with cranberries and sugar. Many Americans associate it with the holiday of Thanksgiving, when it is offered alongside the traditional turkey, but it can be made and used at any time of the year. In addition to pairing well with turkey, cranberry sauce can also be eaten with other roast meats, and some people also enjoy layering it in sandwiches, especially sandwiches which contain Thanksgiving leftovers like turkey and stuffing.

A basic cranberry sauce is made by boiling cranberries in a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, usually in a 1:1:2 ratio of water, sugar, and cranberries. As the cranberries boil, they soften and eventually burst open, flooding the water with their natural pectin. When the sauce is taken off the heat and cooled, the pectin causes the mixture to firm up into a sweet jelly with chunks of cranberry fruits.

The naturally tart flavor of cranberries is tempered with the use of sugar to create a flavorful relish which pairs especially well with fowl. Some cooks puree their cranberry sauce to make it smooth, while others like it chunky. A cranberry jelly can also be made by draining the liquid off, allowing it to set, and then using that alone. The level of sugar can also be adjusted for a tarter sauce.

Any number of variations on cranberry sauce can be found. Sweeteners like honey can replace sugar, for example, and the addition of dried fruit, candied citrus peels, and nuts is not uncommon. Many families have their own recipe, preferring a specific method of preparation which has become familiar after years of use. In addition to being used with roast meats, some people like to eat this sauce with desserts: a chocolate torte, for example, can be served with a sauce made with cranberries for a twist on the more expected raspberry sauce.

For people who like to eat cranberry sauce year round, there are a number of options to consider. When cranberries come into season in the fall, they can be frozen and stored for up to a year for use during the spring and summer months. Cranberry sauce can also be prepared and preserved in jars through a round of canning, for people who are comfortable with the canning process.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon129745 — On Nov 25, 2010

Heat a small amount of left over cranberry sauce in the microwave and pour it over pancakes or waffles.

By laluna — On Nov 20, 2010

There are some easy cranberry sauce recipies available, however, for busy people, canned cranberry sauce is just as good. The jellied type is really a delight.

If you are calories conscious you might want to know that one cup of cranberries has about 60 calories. So if you use 3 cups of cranberries, fresh of frozen you will have 180 calories for the fruit. To that if you add 1 cup of sugar, about 770 calories, the whole batch of the sauce will be about 950 calories.

Sounds a lot, but then again, this will be shared by many people.

By sevenseas — On Jan 02, 2010

Thanksgiving would be unimaginable without cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce can also be used alongside meatballs for an unexpected twist.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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