Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eat Locals

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Make & Can Your Own Cranberry Sauce for Holiday Gifting

It’s amazing to me that some people actually prefer canned cranberry sauce to homemade.  I suspect much of the claimed preference for it is irony from the same folks who order PBR in a craft brewery, but it’s not all that: my own sister-in-law truly wants a log of the canned stuff on the Thanksgiving table.  Once a dish gets on that table, it becomes part of the family tradition. Whether or not anyone likes it or even actually eats it, it’s just got to be on that table until the end of time.  Woe be unto the host who decides to stop making great-grandma's black-cherry-jello-with-canned-black-cherries-in-it just because great-grandma was the only one who ate it and she's been dead fifteen years and now it just sits there looking sad and gets thrown into the compost heap every Sunday-after-Thanksgiving.  But I'm not bitter.  
You can't change tradition, but you can add new ones: our Thanksgiving table contains BOTH my own homemade sauce and the canned stuff my mother-in-law probably switched to sometime in the 1950s.

Why she or anyone ever switched is inexplicable to me, because there can be no comparison between grainy red Jello in the shape of a can and real cranberries cooked from fresh.  And there’s no excuse, either: of all the traditional dishes on the table, cranberry sauce is hands-down the easiest and quickest.  Prep time is about three minutes, and the sauce can be made days ahead so all you have to do on Turkey Day is put it into a serving bowl.  But switch they did, and in large numbers.  Ocean Spray sells 72 million cans of the stuff every autumn, a can for 2 out of 3 households.

So let’s see what we can do about switching them back: let’s gift them homemade cranberry sauce.  If you give it to them as a beautifully-presented handmade gift, they’ll probably at least try it, right?

So: easiness?  How easy is this:  You put cranberries in a pot with sugar and some spices, bring it to a boil, lower to a simmer, and let it cook ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Yes, that’s the entire process.

Cranberry Sauce
makes ~10 pints
6 pounds cranberries (if you can't find bulk berries, 8 12-oz bags equals 6 pounds.)
4 cups orange juice
8 cups sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t cardamom
1/2 t nutmeg

Place all ingredients into a large pot, bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop -- about ten minutes.

What we’re going to do takes it one step further: we’re going to, er, can the sauce.  Go ahead, laugh, but OUR sauce isn’t going to slither out of the canning jar in a gelatinous sliceable mass.  And it isn’t going to contain high fructose corn syrup, either.

Canning instructions:
  1. Fill your canning kettle with 7" of water, place canning rack into the kettle, and bring to a boil on your highest-heat burner turned on high.  Leave it on the boil.
  2. Sanitize 10 pint jars (I usually just run them through the dishwasher.)
  3. Keep the jars hot by pouring a little water into each, setting them into a 13x9 pan with an inch of water in it, and sticking the whole thing into a warm (170 - 200 degree) oven.  
  4. Working with one jar at a time, pour water out of jar, then ladle the hot cranberry sauce into the jar, pushing cranberries down gently into the liquid so they aren't sticking up and adding extra liquid if necessary to cover them.  Leave 1/2" of space between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar.  A canning funnel (a funnel with a wide bottom) is very helpful to prevent spillage.
  5. Wipe the rim with a damp cloth, place a lid on it, and screw on the ring just until you feel resistance.  You don't want the rings on tight -- they're only there to keep the lids in place while the batch processes, and tightening them can prevent a seal from forming.
  6.  As you fill the jars, set them into the kettle on the rack.  You'll need a pair of tongs for this; canning tongs are extremely helpful in grasping the jars securely.
  7.  Repeat until you've filled the kettle.  Cover, and when the pot returns to a boil, start timing.  After five minutes at the boil, remove the jars and allow to cool on a cookie rack.  You should hear the lids pop as the seals form, and when you look at the lids they'll appear very slightly pushed-in.  Any jar that doesn't form a seal should be refrigerated and used within a few weeks. 
  8. Allow to cool 24 hours before removing the rings, wiping the jars and lids clean with a damp cloth, and labeling.