5 Reasons to Swap Canned Cranberry Sauce for Homemade

Make a simple batch of homemade cranberry sauce that people will actually want to eat.

Spirited Cranberry Sauce
Photo: Iain Bagwell

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but there is one that is worth retiring. I'm talking specifically about that dark red, oblong thing with all the ridges sitting in the middle of your dining table. Does anyone truly love cranberry sauce from a can? Cranberry sauce is as much of a part of a classic Thanksgiving menu as the turkey and dressing, but I challenge you to find one person who wakes up that morning excited to eat it. Wiggling out the contents of the can into a cut glass dish is pure ritual. We may dutifully eat a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce, but it does not remotely compare to the pure comfort of a forkful of creamy mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, or the delight of tasting tart apples and warm spices in a slice of apple pie. I'm not saying we should give up on cranberries completely.

If you've never made your own cranberry sauce, let this be the first year you do. It is one of the easiest dishes you can cook for the big feast and is better than the canned stuff in almost every way.

There's a reason why this tart, brightly colored fruit is a permanent fixture on Thanksgiving tables across America. Cranberries are a much-needed spot of bright color and flavor in a sea of brown and beige richness. The zingy acidity of cranberries cuts through the heaviness of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, while also complementing many of the dishes on the table, especially turkey.

Here's why this is the year to try making homemade cranberry sauce. You'll be glad you did.

Better Flavor

Homemade cranberry sauce has bigger, bolder flavor. Canned cranberry sauce often has a fuzzy, muted taste from too much sugar. It doesn't capture the pure tartness of fresh cranberries. When you make it from scratch, you can control how much sugar you put in, or use other sweeteners like maple syrup or honey.

Cooked or Raw

Cranberry relish is a tangy-sweet mixture of coarsely ground raw cranberries and other ingredients like oranges and sugar. No cooking required! Just toss the ingredients in your food processor and grind them up. If you like a soft, smooth sauce, simmer your cranberries with some sugar and other ingredients until tender.

Customize It

You can add all sorts of interesting ingredients to your cranberry sauce. Try Spritzed Cranberry Chutney with rosemary, Classic Cranberry Salad with nuts and pineapple, Spiced Cranberry Mold with spices and fruit juice, or a classic slow-cooker version with fresh and dried fruit like Slow-Cooker Cranberry Sauce.

Spike It

Add a splash of bourbon or orange-flavored liqueur to your cranberry sauce and give the grown-ups at the table something else to be thankful for. Try Grandma Erma's Spirited Cranberry Sauce or Spicy Cranberry Orange Relish for cranberries with a kick.

Smells Great

Although you can make homemade cranberry sauce a few days in advance and store it in your refrigerator, a pot of berries and spices simmering on the stove makes your house smell like the holidays in minutes.

Canned vs. Homemade

Thanksgiving can be a tense time for family dynamics and I would never suggest doing something that could upset people. Some people might actually claim that they like canned cranberry sauce. If you are worried that omitting it will disturb the natural balance of the Thanksgiving table, conduct a simple experiment. Set out a bowl of scratch-made cranberry sauce next to the canned stuff and see which one is gone when dinner is over. I hope for your sake that there is a little homemade sauce left over because it is really good on a turkey sandwich.

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