Two years ago I took on whole cranberry sauce with a Thanksgiving season comparison and the results surprised me. In addition to being time consuming and expensive, the homemade sauce was not clearly superior to the canned variety. My testers were split almost evenly among those who preferred homemade and those who liked the taste of canned sauce. This year, I decided to extend this cranberry comparison to include jellied cranberry sauce. I personally far prefer the chunky texture and tartness of whole cranberry sauce, but there are those in my family who firmly insist on having jellied sauce on the table at every Thanksgiving. I tried a few different homemade recipes for this comparison before hitting on just the right one. My first attempt used gelatin to thicken the cranberry sauce, but this recipe ended up tasting more like jello than cranberry sauce. It was far sweeter than the canned variety and had a more jiggly jello feel. Finally, a google search for homemade cranberry sauce turned up the perfect recipe . . . on the Ocean Spray website! If anyone knows cranberries, I reasoned, it’s probably the people at Ocean Spray and this assumption turned out to be correct. The Ocean Spray recipe was not only far simpler than the gelatin recipe I had tried previously, it also turned out perfectly jelled sauce that had a nice balance of sweet and tangy. In the end, I spruced up the original Ocean Spray recipe a bit by including fresh ginger and orange for a little extra flavor. We then opened a can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce and the comparisons began!
Orange-Ginger Jellied Cranberry Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups cold water
2 cups sugar
2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
3 large strips of fresh orange peel
1. In a large saucepan, bring the orange juice, water and sugar to a boil.
2. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the cranberries, ginger and orange peel. Cover and simmer on low for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Set a large, fine-mesh strainer over a medium saucepan. Strain the cranberry liquid through the strainer into the pan, pressing with a rubber spatula to extract all of the juice. Â Discard the cranberry solids.
4. Turn the heat on low under the medium pan containing the cranberry liquid and bring the liquid to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Pour the thickened cranberry sauce into a clean, airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. To serve: Dip the bottom of the container in hot water for 1 minute before unmolding the cranberry sauce.
Unlike the whole berry cranberry sauce, this cranberry sauce comparison had a clear winner. The homemade sauce was fresher tasting with a great cranberry flavor that was brightened and enhanced by the orange juice. Compared to the homemade sauce, the canned cranberry sauce had a very sour flavor and “tinny” undertones that really overwhelmed the cranberry flavor. Although it is hard to tell in pictures, when compared side by side the two sauces also looked remarkably different. The homemade sauce had a beautiful, rich red color while the canned sauce looked rather muddy and brownish.
While the homemade sauce does take longer to prepare than canned, it was not as time consuming as making whole berry sauce. It required only about 20 minutes of active cooking and the rest of the time it’s just chilling in the fridge. Also, this is a perfect dish to prepare a few days ahead of time, which means it won’t be adding to your workload on Thanksgiving day. The major downside of making your own cranberry sauce is the cost. Fresh cranberries are quite costly and drove the cost over $5 for just 2 cups of cranberry sauce. Still, this doesn’t seem like a huge price to pay for perfect cranberry sauce on one day a year.
Bottom Line: Â Homemade cranberry sauce is fun and easy to prepare, has a beautiful ruby-red color and tastes significantly better than canned. The fresh cranberry flavor and rich color definitely make the extra effort worthwhile. Of course, only you can decide if you are willing to do without the lovely ridges on the canned sauce . . .