I have a Thanksgiving confession: neither of our daughters would let the holiday pass without reminding us to open a can of jellied cranberry sauce. Our oldest, in particular, is a big fan. It’s the first thing she eats at the various school Thanksgiving lunches we attend, preferring it on its own rather than as a condiment to be eaten with the turkey or stuffing.
The grown-ups around our holiday table wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but there seems to be some amount of guilty pleasure associated with eating something that retains the shape of the can in which it was packed. For that reason, going back to long before the year my husband and I started hosting Thanksgiving for our relatively small combined clans, there have been TWO dishes of cranberry sauce on the table: the jellied kind, and a cranberry relish.
Now, I thought that this particular dish was the stuff of family folklore — you know, great-grandma’s long-lost holiday recipe that traveled with relatives from jolly ‘ole England or something like that. My sister corrected me. “It was from the cranberry bag.” So much for history. But it has become omnipresent on our Thanksgiving table, so I guess we have invented some history for this dish.
The actual recipe was lost long ago (who holds on to those cranberry packages anyway?), and we’ve tinkered with ratios a bit over time, but this super-simple recipe calls for only three ingredients: cranberries, navel oranges and sugar. It’s quick and easy and requires no real cooking — so it’s a great dish to make with the kids — plus I’ve added some more sophisticated holiday flavors that we mix into half of the batch to change things up a bit for the adults.
The ginger was perhaps the most local of all our ingredients this year, coming from Chickadee Creek Farm in Titusville, NJ. I was practically giddy when I saw the baby ginger at the Princeton Farmer’s Market several weeks ago. It was a thing of wonder — tender, flavorful, and beautiful to boot! I just had to buy some, and was glad to use the last of it in this recipe.
When we made our cranberry-orange relish this year the girls were actually lined up to help, everything from washing the cranberries to peeling the pith off the orange to measuring sugar (always a favorite job) to pushing buttons on the food processor. And they were both anxious to taste, which was great.
We’ll see, come Thanksgiving, if they make room on their plates for something other than the jellied cranberry. Keeping my finger’s crossed! If you make a batch of your own, please let me know how it is received on your holiday table!
Cranberry-Orange Relish with Ginger and Thyme
12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries (if you have a few more ounces, don’t sweat it…use what you’ve got)
1 navel orange (navels are seedless – if you substitute, do so with a sweet, seedless variety)
Scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 – 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Wash and drain the cranberries, picking over and discarding any berries that are soft.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel off the top layer of the navel orange rind — take care not to get any of the bitter white pith just under the surface. Save the peelings – they go into the relish. Then peel off the remaining white pith and segment the orange into a small bowl by cutting the flesh out from between the membranes. Discard the white pith and membranes of the orange.
In the large bowl of a food processor, combine the cranberries, the orange rind peelings, the segmented orange sections, and sugar. We used a quarter cup measure to measure the sugar — easier for each girl to get a turn — but filled each scoop about three-quarters full…so I guess it was more like 6/16ths of a cup…which is 3/8ths of a cup…but who has those kinds of cup measures? Just eyeball it, and use a very light hand with the sugar unless your family has a real sweet tooth.
Process the mixture in long pulses in the food processor until all ingredients are finely chopped and combined. You will have approximately 2 cups of relish.
If you want to do what we did and make two versions of this relish, remove 1 cup of relish to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least several hours (but it could be up to three days in advance) to meld flavors and allow the sugar to dissolve into the fruit and create a bit of a syrup. Take the remaining cup of relish in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger and 1 teaspoon thyme leaves. Mix well and refrigerate as above.
If you are making a solely ginger-thyme version, use the larger amounts of minced ginger and thyme and mix throughout the whole batch. Refrigerate to allow flavors to combine as noted above.
This relish will keep, refrigerated, for a week or more. It’s great on leftover turkey sandwiches, stirred in with a little stuffing and served with a fried egg for breakfast, or go nuts and put it on a hamburger instead of ketchup.
Serves: 8 – 10
Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. My sister and I kind-of need this on the table every year. Go easy on the sugar and it’s a tart alternative to the jellied cranberry. Great foil to all the other heavy foods on the Thanksgiving plate. Great with roast beef or ham during the holidays as well. Keep it in rotation from Thanksgiving through mid-April without batting an eyelash.
Kid rating: a solid four stars. Both Daughter 1 and Daughter 2 were anxious to try the fruits of their 10 minutes of labor, and both liked the relish very much. Different reviews though: Daughter 1 thought it tasted strongly of oranges, and Daughter 2 found it a little “too sweet.” Just speaks to how palates are very different in kids. I’m excited to see how this goes over on Thanksgiving! At the very least, the girls will be excited to let everyone else try something they made. And I’m thankful for that.