The Great Cranberry Controversy

Put this on your bucket list!

Traditionally I post “In Defense of Parsnips” during Thanksgiving week, offering praise for the underrated delicious root vegetable, but since I included it in Emilya’s question of the week, I won’t push my luck by repeating it. Instead, I will focus on the unspoken conflict sitting on the table of most Americans during Thanksgiving dinner: THE GREAT CRANBERRY CONTROVERSY.

            You are likely to have tasted the cranberry, probably in the form of juice or fruit drink or perhaps as cranberry bread, a loaf filled with cranberries and nuts. And if you enjoy turkey for Thanksgiving, there is a strong likelihood a bowl or serving dish of some kind containing cranberry sauce will accompany it. So far, so good. What’s controversial about a small side dish?

The real thing

            The rub is the form in which the cranberry arrives at the table. Ocean Spray, a company cranberry collaborative located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and other companies, make canned cranberry sauce that comes jellied or as whole berries. Here’s where the conflict starts. Some want to carve their jellied cranberry sauce just as they carve their turkey. They remove it from the can, place it either sideways or upright in a small serving dish and have at it. The smooth texture makes the jellied sauce perfect to add to sandwiches filled with leftovers. Others prefer the berried sauce more authentic and consider the jello-like texture childish. There are tables that will serve both versions just to keep everyone happy.

The carving kind

            But there are diehard cranberry lovers who say both are blasphemy when fresh cranberries are readily available and cranberry sauce is a breeze to make.

A beautiful sight

Here’s a simple recipe from Food Network:

Empty a 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries into a saucepan and transfer 1/2 cup to a small bowl. Add 1 cup sugar, 1 strip orange or lemon zest and 2 tablespoons water to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the reserved cranberries. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste and cool to room temperature before serving.

I make a recipe like this every Thanksgiving and get lots of compliments. I think people are under the impression fresh cranberry sauce is difficult to make, but the truth is that it’s not much harder than opening a can and trying to get the blasted jelly form out in one piece attractive enough for the table. Hint: open both ends of the can and gently push it through – and so now you know I’m guilty of serving both. I am a mediator, after all.

Cranberries should be enjoyed, however you serve them, and don’t deserve to be part of a controversy that inspires long strings of comments on social media. Go back to fighting about politics and religion at the table, America, and leave the cranberries out of it!

Here’s a simple cranberry Christmas cake recipe that no one will fight about.

Cranberry Christmas Cake

Prep Time

20 mins

Cook Time

45 mins

Total Time

1 hr 5 mins

Tart fresh cranberries and sweet buttery cake are perfectly combined in this popular Christmas dessert!

Course: Dessert

Servings: 16 servings


  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly thickened and light in color, about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should almost double in size. The eggs work as your leavening agent in this recipe, so do not skip this step. This mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out of the bowl. Add the butter and vanilla; mix two more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout.

Spread in a buttered 9×13 pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. (I baked mine for 43 minutes.) Let cool completely before cutting into small slices.


  1. That cake sounds fabulous, Michele! I grew up with canned cranberry sauce, but for decades I have made a version of your fresh recipe. So simple, so much better.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and all the Miss Demeanors!

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