When I was growing up there was only one kind of cranberry sauce at the holidays, the kind that is served in the shape of a can. I didn’t even know there was a sauce with actual cranberries in it, or that it could easily be made at home. Now, there are a lot of other processed foods that have many more questionable ingredients than canned cranberry sauce, so I’m not saying it’s evil or anything – just one of the many foods that I always assumed were to be bought at a store rather than made at home, just like mayonnaise, salad dressings, chocolate syrup and other “pantry basics” I’ve written about.
And just like those other basic foods, I found that not only is cranberry sauce incredibly easy to make at home, it’s also much fresher tasting. It’s even possible to strain it and make a semi-jellied sauce, if that’s your thing. But once I tried pieces of real cranberries in my sauce, there was no going back for me. I like to make sure all the berries are popped, so I mash the berries pretty good – and even one year used an immersion blender – but I like to keep some texture in the sauce.
However, there is one thing I’ve gotten rid of from those first years that I made homemade cranberry sauce using the package directions – the heaps of refined sugar. I now sweeten our cranberry sauce with only maple syrup and the natural sweetness of orange juice.
Ahhh, but what that did to the flavor! Very subtle hints of maple and a large dose of citrusy goodness – way better than the water-sugar variation I started with. And not even in the same universe as the canned stuff.
Maple sweetened orange cranberry sauce can be made days or even a week in advance of your holiday meal, taking only minutes of your time to prepare. And if you have any leftovers, they are SO good in many things – thinned with more maple syrup as a sauce for ice cream and pancakes, in sandwiches, as a sweet bread filling and as a filling for any jam-crumb bar (like this recipe instead of the apple butter) – which is probably my favorite.
Did you grow up with canned sauce – or no sauce at all? Have you made cranberry sauce at home?
- 1 bag cranberries (12 oz.), fresh or frozen
- 1 c. unsweetened orange juice
- ¾ c.-1 c. pure maple syrup (I use ¾ c. which makes a tart-sweet sauce - increase syrup to 1 c. if you'd like a sweeter sauce)
- orange zest from 1 orange (about 1 Tb.)
- Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat to maintain a very soft boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The berries will start to pop and the sauce thicken. Mash as desired while stirring (if you'd like a smoother sauce, you can use an immersion blender before storing the sauce and it will gel a bit like canned jellied sauce).
- Transfer sauce to a lidded container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week before serving (the sauce thickens even more as it cools).