The Great Thanksgiving Debate…

“Debate? What debate”?, you ask. Cranberries~we need to talk about cranberries.  Cranberries are synonymous with Autumn and many people today associate cranberries with Thanksgiving. So let’s answer the question of whether or not cranberries were present at the first Thanksgiving feast.  

The answer is no. While the very tart cranberry may have been included in some Wampanoag dishes, there would have been no cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving.  Sugar would have been horribly expensive and scarce in the colonies in 1621. No evidence of anyone making or eating cranberry sauce can be found for at least the next half century. A recipe for cranberry sauce appears in the 1796 edition of The Art of Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first known cookbook authored by an American. She wrote about cooking cranberries with sugar to make a “sweet sauce” that could be eaten with meat.

Now that we have addressed the history of cranberry sauce, we have to turn to the great divide: I love it vs. I hate it. How is it that this simple, round, red, shiny, unassuming fruit can be the cause of such controversy?  Are you part of team love it or team hate it?  Here are the facts. 

In 2019, Instacart,  in coordination with Harris Poll, conducted an  online survey of 2000 Americans. Respondents were asked to talk about their feelings about foods on the table at Thanksgiving. The least popular item was, you guessed it, cranberry sauce.  Almost half of the 2000 participants described canned cranberry sauce as “disgusting”

Now, I am not a fan of canned cranberry sauce, but I am not holding that jiggly gelatin in the can against all cranberries.  I buy fresh cranberries and have the joy of making my own cranberry sauce on the stove.  First of all, it is so easy!  Here’s the recipe:  a bag of cranberries, a cup of water, and a cup of sugar.  Bring it to a boil and simmer.  Here’s the fun part; as the water heats up around and within the cranberries they expands and the cranberries pop!  It sounds similar to popcorn! When my son was little, he would beg to help make the cranberry sauce.  He is in his forties now and still brings the homemade cranberry sauce to our family Thanksgiving table.  So, if you haven’t, I suggest you give it a try.  It tastes so good (you can make it as sweet (add more sugar or honey), tart (add lemon rind an juice)as you like), or spicy (add cinnamon, orange juice) and it becomes a lasting family memory.

Now, part two of the GREAT DEBATE: if we agree that there will be cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table, will it be whole fruit or jellied?  My family is firmly dug in on the whole fruit side of the issue and my husband’s family will only eat the jellied version.  As you have probably guessed, I end up with not one, but two serving dishes of cranberry sauce, one for each.

In addition to really enjoying the way the tang of cranberry sauce cuts the richness of the Thanksgiving bounty, it just looks so pretty on the table. I love the beauty of the table. The rich browns of potatoes, turkey, dressing, golden colors of squash or sweet potatoes, greens of hearty vegetables, and then there is that pretty pop of red cranberry nestled in among all the warm colors of Autumn on the table. 

There are plenty of reasons to love Thanksgiving. This holiday is about so much more than the food, and I never ignore the fact that I am richly blessed by the people sitting at the table with me. Whether or not there is cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving table, I am sending out warm wishes for a holiday filled with family, friends, food, and fun.  Go gather memories and hold them close to your heart.

Thank you for the photo: melissa-di-rocco-qorye5pnuAk-unsplash.jpg

Author: Jennifer C. Walts, Ed.D.

I am a retired educator and School Improvement Specialist.

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