Last updated on October 27th, 2019
Raw cranberry relish rules the roost at our Thanksgiving table. A few whirred-up food processor versions run through our various family recipe bloodlines and have graced our various Turkey Day feasts for the past two decades.
Their bracing tartness does an admirable job of cutting through the starchy, heavy smorgasboard set before us. And raw is good, right?
It keeps all those nutrients intact, being all “pop pop!” with the antioxidants and whatnot, and most certainly helps to negate the effects of that second helping of stuffing I snuck out of the fridge at 10:30 pm.
Ah, but despite this knowledge and my dutiful consumption of raw cranberry relish each year, I retain a soft spot for the smoothly textured canned cranberry sauce of my youth—the one my grandma would let me stamp into turkey-shaped slices with a plastic cookie cutter.
Oh, the way it slormped out of the can with that satisfyingly sucky noise. You could slurp it down easy with the same frisson of suction.
More than the hilarious and captivating noises or the Sour Patch Kid-esque overtones of its texture, there was just a little extra poppiness to the cranberry’s taste after it made the transition from raw to cooked.
It was something naturally juicier and brighter than its original state. Like the sweet caramelization of roasted Concord grapes, heat transformed the powerful tang of the punchy berries into a more layered and nuanced bite.
I won’t be exerting any dictatorial tendencies and demanding the removal of any raw relishes from our Thanksgiving table this year or in any seasons to come. I’m not inciting a revolution.
But I am going to keep a jar of my own slow-simmered cranberry spread in the refrigerator for all the cold mornings ahead.
The following recipe is my ode to the Canadian bounty I recently brought back from the markets of Montreal, where I walked past bins overflowing with cranberries and towers of freshly canned sirop d’érable (that’s maple syrup for you non Francophones) at almost every turn.
This jam-like cranberry spread could totally pass as a relish for the Big T, but I’m using it more as a breakfast spread for the whole winter. Zingy without too much adornment, it relies on the cranberries to bring the thunder.
Why lemon extract? Its concentrated flavor is purer and sweeter than that of lemon juice or zest, and I think it brings out the same sweet purity in the cranberries more effectively than the fresh stuff in this case.
There’s already enough pucker power in this recipe—the extract enhances without adding too much more.
Oh, and P.S., here’s your horticultural lesson for the day: Cranberries grow on vines and don’t really need to be underwater all the time—farmers flood the beds to make harvest easier, since the acidic little buggers float.
I’m boggled! (Sorry. not really. I love a pun.)
- 24 ounces fresh cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups real maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- Rinse and drain the cranberries, then pour into a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven along with 1 cup water.
- Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally as the cranberries pop and soften.
- After 10-15 minutes, when the cranberries are mostly liquefied, add the maple syrup.
- Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for another 45 minutes to an hour. The cranberries will transform from a loose mush to a thick crimson jam.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon extract.
- Scoop into jars and cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
If you'd like to store the spread unrefrigerated, sterilize and can the jars in a water bath.