As a kid, my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal wasn’t the turkey. I didn’t drool over the mashed potatoes or my father’s giblet gravy. I didn’t love, or even like for that matter, those miniature pickles and what-nots on my mother’s sectioned relish tray. I thought the stuffing had too many unidentifiable objects in it to be palatable, and I wouldn’t even touch a yam, candied or otherwise. Believe it or not, I never got jazzed up about the pumpkin pie, even with a humongous dollop of Cool Whip.
Nope. My favorite part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal was the one that sat inconspicuously in a little pressed glass dish at the corner of the dining table. It didn’t require much preparation, but it was an essential part of our feast that I looked forward to every year.
It was the canned cranberry sauce.
Now, don’t judge. After all, it was the 70s, when we ate everything out of cans. Peas, corn, fruit juice, grapefruit sections, ham, chow mien, beef stew, liverwurst, and even chocolate syrup. It was a decade that celebrated ingenious cooking short cuts like canned foods, processed meats, flavored gelatin and mini marshmallows. Back then, canned cranberry sauce was downright trendy.
Besides, that stuff is delicious. Admit it.
When I was old enough to use the can opener, my mother would let me prepare the canned cranberries for our Thanksgiving meal. After releasing the suction, and prying off the lid, the jellied cylinder would slide right out onto the pressed glass dish, perfectly intact and still showing the ridges of the can, with a pleasing little “PLOP.” Using a table knife, I’d slowly carve the rounded mold into uniform disks that wiggled as I carried them to the table.
To me, the sweet, tangy, chilled, translucent, smooth, slices glowed like rubies in the candlelight refracting through the glass dish, and they tasted simply divine.
Back then, I thought that canned cranberry sauce gave our Thanksgiving meal elevated status – it was gourmet, fancy, high class.
So why then, forty years later, has canned cranberry sauce been relegated to the ranks of the boxed stuffing, jarred gravies, and other homely short cuts of the culinary world?
Twenty years ago, I married a Navy man, and we’ve moved around the world. Most holidays, we were unable to travel the distance to be with extended family, so we shared meals with other Navy friends who were in the same boat [pun intended.] During the inevitable Thanksgiving meal planning conversations between the wives, it soon became clear that it wasn’t cool to serve canned cranberry sauce.
“You don’t serve canned cranberries, do you?” they would ask, incredulously. And of course, to save face, I would lie.
“Oh gosh no! I always make it from scratch, you know, with the real cranberries and the sugar and, uh …” I’d fib, praying that the other wife would volunteer to make it so I wouldn’t have to search for a recipe.
And at every Thanksgiving meal we shared with other military families over the years, I fawned over the homemade cranberry relishes they had been stewing all day with fresh ginger, orange zest, or cloves.
However, a year has not gone by, that I did not get a secret smack of my beloved canned cranberry sauce around Thanksgiving time. It’s easy to saunter by the seasonal commissary display with it’s fried onions, condensed milk, and chicken broth, and inconspicuously slip a can of cranberries into my grocery cart without any of the other wives noticing.
But all these years of shame and secrecy are wearing on me. Now in my 40s, I’m ready to come out of the closet. Yes, I wear comfortable cotton underwear. Yes, I color my grays. Yes, I’m saving my puka shell anklet from 1981 just in case it comes back into style.
And yes, I will always love canned cranberry sauce.