My current favorite cranberry sauce recipe calls for two cups of pinot noir. You can get a buzz just from the fumes as it cooks.
In addition, however, I almost always have to make that classic relish – from cranberries and oranges and sugar – regardless of what else is on the menu. When I was little, probably in elementary school, my Aunt Marcy – long known as the cook in the family – began a tradition of letting me help her make it every year. Those were the days before food processors, so we used a big, clunky meat grinder – the kind that clamp onto the table and then drip juice all over the floor. At least, that was the way it went when I helped. Somehow, I managed to keep my fat little fingers out of the grinder part, which seems like nothing short of a Thanksgiving miracle to me at this point.
It started with a bag of cranberries. You had to hold your hand over the top of the funnel opening, to keep the berries from bouncing out all over the kitchen, and it was something of a challenge to get them all down into the spiral grinder part. Then came the two oranges, cut into quarters, with the juice that was supposed to drip into the bowl. I thought I was really cooking as I slowly turned the crank, then stirred in the sugar to taste.
I got married in June of 1977, and my mother-in-law joined us for our first Thanksgiving. Although food processors were introduced to the US in 1973, I’d been too poor to buy one and too uninformed to ask for one as a wedding present. Nothing seemed more natural than to buy a meat grinder just like my aunt’s to make the relish.
The next year, Marcy told me about an exciting new development: she’d bought a food processor. She exclaimed over how much easier it was to make the relish – hardly any work at all – and she no longer had to drag out the grinder. So I put a Cuisinart at the top of my Christmas wish list that same year. My husband was skeptical – I had warned him of the dangers of giving appliances as Christmas gifts – but compliant, and so began my love affair with the food processor. What an amazing transformation in culinary fun. Someone should give an award to the person who invented it.
But through moves from apartment to apartment in Manhattan, and out to New Jersey, and now down to Texas, I’ve hung onto my meat grinder. I don’t use it for anything these days, but I can’t seem to get rid of it. Now my 11-year-old nephew is coming for Thanksgiving – maybe he’d like to grind out some cranberry relish.
Cranberry Sauce with Pinot NoirAdapted from Bon Appétit, November 1997
Notes from the Kitchen Goddess: I discovered this recipe on epicurious.com, where some reviewers suggested reducing the sugar. Others claim they left out the crystallized ginger. I make it exactly as written, and love it, but I’ll eat anything with crystallized ginger. My husband is always trying to have me use some junk wine, but I say if you don’t want to drink it, you don’t want to cook with it. So while you don’t have to splurge, go for some medium-priced Pinot. The house will smell amazing. If you finish off the wine as you cook, you can use the bottle in your centerpiece.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 rounded cups cranberries (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cups Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
Large pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cranberries and fresh ginger; stir about 3 minutes or until cranberries begin to burst. Add the wine and sugar, and boil until the mixture is reduced to 2½ cups, about 15 minutes. Add crystallized ginger, curry powder, and five-spice powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sauce cold or, if desired, re-warm over low heat, stirring often.
Makes 2½ cups.
Note: The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead, and stored, covered, in the fridge.