Cooking Outside the Can: Homemade Molded Cranberry Sauce

photo (1)We buried my mother last June. These are my first set of holidays without her.  I was sitting in my living room feeling bad–really bad. I was contemplating life, death, and oddly enough, cranberry sauce.

I decided that I would make molded cranberry sauce from a recipe given to my mother by her friend Fran many decades ago and passed on to me. I have made whole berry sauce (See my blog “Lingonberries, Goats, and Cranberry Sauce,” October 25, 2010) but decided to make the strained and molded version this year.

Have you ever heard that apocryphal story of the woman who was making cranberry
sauce for the first time and asked a more experienced cook, “How do I make
those lines in the sides of the cranberry sauce?” Her only experience had been
with store-bought sauce which is poured into cans, allowed to set up, and then
pressure canned. I had eaten my Mom’s molded cranberry sauce for years but had never been present when she created it.

The recipe seemed stone ax simple, consisting of only a few ingredients: sugar, water, and cranberries. My problem was that I had only the most basic of cooking instructions. I cooked the berries until they popped and brought the mixture to a rolling boil for maybe 5 minutes. Next, I strained the hot sauce to remove all the seeds and skins and poured it into molds and put it in the refrigerator to set up. Finally, I waited and waited–and waited. Eight hours passed and it didn’t set up! Normally, I would have called my mother, and she would have told me where I had gone wrong.

For the first time, I couldn’t call her. My Mom is no longer in my service area.

Then it occurred to me that even though my mother is gone, her friend Fran, who gave her the recipe, is still alive and living in northern Wisconsin. I looked up her number and called her. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and she was home baking pumpkin and banana cream pies, her contribution to her family’s feast. (Yes, if you were wondering, she was making the pumpkin and the banana cream custards from scratch!) We had a lovely conversation. It was in many ways like talking to mother again–it at once comforted me and broke my heart.

Here is the recipe with the cooking instructions that made it possible for me to get the same results as my mother for so many Thanksgivings and Christmases.Cranberries 006

Fran’s Molded Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 pound fresh cranberries
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  1. Combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add washed and picked-over cranberries. (Don’t be alarmed. You will hear the cranberries pop in the first stage of cooking.)
  2. Bring back to a rolling boil and cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Cook in this way until the cranberry mixture sheets off of the stirring spoon.
  3. Strain through a sieve or food mill to remove all skins and seeds.
  4. Pour into a mold that has been very lightly wiped with vegetable oil.
  5. Let set out at room temperature until the hot cranberry mixture cools and sets up. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  6. Remove from refrigerator and set mold in a bowl of warm water to soften slightly. Remove mold from water, invert serving plate on top of the mold and turn over, gently shaking the jelly free onto the plate.

The sweet thing about cranberry sauce (pun intended) is that it is forgiving. I was able to solve my jelling problem without having to start over. I simply returned the unjelled mixture to the sauce pan and heated it back to a rolling boil, stirring at all times so it would not scorch as it reduced. When the mixture dripped off the spoon in a thickened sheet, I knew it was done. I poured it back into a clean, lightly oiled mold and left it on the kitchen counter to set up, which it did as it cooled to room temperature. Then I covered the mold with plastic wrap and refrigerated it until it was time to decant and serve.

This jelly is great at any time you are serving poultry. Cranberries freeze and keep well, so you can pull a bag out of the freezer and make this side dish at any time of the year. Pick up a few extra bags of berries now while they are on sale for the holidays! Begonia

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