While turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing get much-deserved attention on the Thanksgiving table, let’s sing the praises of cranberries as an essential part of the meal.

Thanksgiving sides can be rich, and cranberry offers a tart counterbalance. It provides zing and a bright splash of red color. It’s a food we don’t eat many other times of the year, but it has a place at Thanksgiving for good reason.

For those of you loyal to canned cranberry sauce, I understand the appeal. It’s dependable and is traditional for many families, including my own. But there’s nothing to say you can’t offer two types of cranberry dishes.

Homemade cranberry sauce is an altogether different creature than the canned version. If you haven’t tried to make it before, the first two recipes are a good place to start. They are easy, can be made ahead and don’t have weird ingredients like horseradish or sour cream (which, ahem, are not necessary).

And if that’s still a stretch, I’m sharing two drinks and a Jello recipe. The Thanksgiving table, after all, should have something for everyone.

Classic Cranberry Sauce

Nothing beats plain, fresh cranberry sauce. It can and should be made in advance to clear the way for time-sensitive Thanksgiving dishes. Don’t forget to save some for leftover turkey sandwiches.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup orange juice

1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries

Add a bit of grated lemon and/or orange zest if you have it

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add cranberries, and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely to room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Cranberry Pear Relish

I’ve been making this cranberry relish for Thanksgiving for at least 15 years, and it’s a Thanksgiving requirement at my house. You do need a food processor. It does not require cooking.

1 small naval orange

1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh or frozen cranberries

1 pear, cored and cut into large chunks. (I leave the skin on the pear if it is yellow or green, but peel if it is a Bosc or thicker skin variety.)

1/2 cup brown sugar

Pinch kosher salt

3 tablespoons pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Wash and dry the orange and pear and cut into large chunks, including the peel. Put the orange and pear in a food processor and give it a couple of pulses. Add cranberries, cut-up pear, sugar and salt.

Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to two days. Just before serving, stir in the pecans.


Cranberry Cocktail (nonalcoholic)

This is a family recipe, and when you are 12 years old it is the height of sophistication.

Cranberry juice

Orange sherbet

Pour a small glass of cranberry juice and add a small scoop of orange sherbet. Serve before dinner, especially if things in the kitchen are taking a long time. Discuss whether sherbet should be pronounced “sher-bit” or “sher-bert.”

Cranberry Cocktail

1.5 ounces pure cranberry juice

1.5 ounces gin

1.5 ounces orange juice

1 ounce simple syrup

Fresh thyme, if you have some

Tonic or seltzer water

To a 12-ounce glass, add cranberry juice, gin, orange juice, simple syrup and two sprigs of thyme. With the back of a spoon, muddle the thyme against the inside of the glass.

Add ice to 2/3 full, then top with tonic or seltzer water and stir.


I’m not the biggest Jell-O fan, but I’m from the Midwest and I’ve heard Jell-O salads are hip again, so I’m including this for those of you who do like Jell-O. It’s from The Picnic, a restaurant in Nashville famous for its chicken salad and pimento cheese. Is this a dessert? A side dish? All good questions to debate at a family gathering.

Picnic Cranberry Salad

2 packages of red raspberry Jell-O

1 small can pineapple tidbits

1 can (16 ounces) whole cranberry sauce

1 1/2 cups water

Whipping cream

Sprig of fresh mint

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add Jell-O and mix until dissolved. Fold in cranberry sauce and undrained pineapple.

Spoon into a 9-by-11 dish. Let set per package directions, and garnish with whipping cream and mint.

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