Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.

Ingredients:

  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

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