Thanksgiving’s Forbidden Fruit

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

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. 

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Comments: 8

  1. Jill November 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm Reply

    Fun blog as always, Lisa 🙂 I don’t particularly enjoy either canned or fresh cranberries but Mom taught me the art of slicing the canned stuff: open both ends of the can, carefully hold the can horizontally over your serving dish and press the cranberry through to the other end. As the cranberry appears, use one of the metal discs to slice the cranberry into the serving dish and voila! You still have the classy ridges from the can and it’s a good job for the younger generation who is helping in the kitchen! Life skills and traditions…

  2. Chris Molinari November 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm Reply

    I always do both… the kids like making the real cranberry sauce, but Chef Dad has to have the canned. (And the real reason to serve the canned is for the leftovers… it’s not a leftovers-sandwich without the cold canned cranberry sauce… it plays off so nicely against the hot toasted bread and re-heated turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy.)

  3. susandaoustyoung November 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm Reply

    Thanks for the memories, Lisa. As a kid we always had the canned gel and the canned whole cranberries, which I thought were horrid. Always preferred the gel til I actually made fresh cranberries…no fancy recipe, just water and sugar, boil 10 minutes and voila! But we always have a can for the kids. In fact, I just bought one yesterday. Hope you and your family have a great holiday,Lisa. Susan Young

  4. energywriter November 25, 2013 at 9:32 am Reply

    Great story. Left a comment. sd

  5. Sharon November 25, 2013 at 9:31 am Reply

    Sorry Lisa, I have to disagree with you this time. I always served the canned cranberry gelatin, even though I didn’t like it, until I moved to Wisconsin in 1976 and someone handed me a fresh cranberry to eat – just as it was. I’ve never looked back.
    Great story, though.

  6. Anonymous November 25, 2013 at 8:29 am Reply

    Love it, Sister! For the record: I prefer CANNED cranberry over the real, nodule infested muck many serve with their birds. There’s always a berry in those gelatinous mixes that kinda makes me want to hold my napkin back up to my mouth and practice a “redo”. Like there’s a seed or something in there waiting go just take me by surprise! I’m with you on the canned cran. It’s part of growing up…..part of a familial tradition and – quite frankly part of AMERICA! Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

  7. BrianB.Randall November 25, 2013 at 12:23 am Reply

    Although I’ve never liked green eggs and ham or canned cranberry sauce in a can, I did enjoy your post, especially the icing at the end.

  8. Anonymous November 24, 2013 at 9:28 pm Reply

    That canned s**t is waaaay better than the homemade stuff in my opinion. It was my fav as a kid too!

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