A Not-At-All-Stressful Guide to Cranberry Sauce
It's easier than you think!
[Hey there! This blog will always be free to read, but it’s also how I pay my bills. So, if you like what you read, please consider a paid subscription.]
So, you’ve decided to have cranberry sauce at your Thanksgiving table tomorrow!
I offer you a hearty congratulations on having taste buds, and in the holiday spirit, I submit this handy guide to doing cranberry sauce the right way.
Did you know that a recipe for cranberry sauce appeared in the first known cookbook published by an American? It’s true! In 1796, Amelia Simmons introduced the cranberry sauce concept in “American Cookery”, recognized by the Library of Congress as “one of the books that shaped America”.
(A survey conducted by The Trevor Project suggests that more than half of transgender and non-binary children have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. This is higher for trans and non-binary children of color.)
Simmons’ recipe calls for cranberries to be “stewed, strained, and sweetened” as part of the prep for a lovely supporting role in favor of the turkey main character.
She was well-meaning and surely could not have anticipated the glorious nature of canned cranberry sauce, but we certainly have no excuse in our modern world.
Children get older, and we’re all getting older, too. And many of us are failing to differentiate in taste and texture between the performative slop that is accused by its creators of being “authentic cranberry sauce” and the exquisite artistry and boldness of the canned variety.
Canned cranberry sauce isn’t pretending to be anything else. It has no airs or presumptions. It invites us into a safe and welcoming space created for the tastes of people who don’t live and die by the commentary found in Town & Country.
(At least 48 trans and non-binary people have been murdered in the United States this year. By a mile, 2021 is the deadliest year on record for trans and non-binary people. We are living through an epidemic of fatal anti-trans violence. Black women make up the vast majority of those murdered.)
It is impossible to pinpoint my favorite thing about canned cranberry sauce. There’s the moment the can is opened, its orientation adjusted 180 degrees, and the soft weight of the jellied happiness suspends, ever-so-gorgeously, in midair above the serving plate.
It’s all in the wrist now, and although you could be aggressive if you wanted, it’s so much more lovely to softly flick your carpal bones and observe, in quiet delight, as the can-shaped cranberry glides out—perhaps with a pleasing and muffled “pop”—unto the serving dish.
And now, take a moment to appreciate, perhaps, the only true achievement of industrialized society, which would rival just about anything found in nature: the cylindrical cranberry jelly, horizontally positioned, its perfect aluminum-enabled ribbing beckoning any worthy person to slice into those perfect straight ridges hugging the jelly widthwise.
But even this, you realize, is an imperfect characterization. None of us are truly worthy of the canned cranberry mould. We are all imperfect before our Cranberry Goddess, and through this imperfection, we find a measure of liberation.
(The National Center for Transgender Equality found that nearly 30 percent of transgender and non-binary people have experienced homelessness. As much as 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ — primarily trans and non-binary children. The rate for homelessness among trans people nearly doubled during Trump’s term. In 30 states, trans and non-binary people can still be denied housing if a property owner or landlord doesn’t want to rent or sell to a trans or non-binary person.)
How do you eat canned cranberry sauce?
This is the beauty—nay, the gorgeous innovation—of this treat. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with calmly and rationally forking off bits of jelly to combine with turkey and other dishes. This is an honest expression of culinary desire, and I will not shame it.
As for me and my plate, the canned cranberry sculpture is the headliner. It deserves its own 30 min. set of melodic immersion and the inevitable encore reserved for active legends.
First, I like to carefully slice down the sexy ridges, building a pile of cranberry sauce discs that look as sporty as they do delicious. I test the springy-ness of the jelly’s body and peacefully smile at the soft imprints we all absentmindedly make with our forks.
God is good, and in Her place, we give thanks for canned cranberry sauce.
(When the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and teachers of trans and non-binary children email me, a stranger, to ask for advice on how to make the world safe for their kids, I do my best to offer them hopeful guidance and a wealth of resources without ever mentioning what we both know to be true: there is no such thing as a “safe” world for trans children. Safer, yes, but never truly safe. “Just get them out of childhood in one piece — that’s an accomplishment”, I want to say. But I don’t tell them this. Most of the time, I wouldn’t need to. They already know.)
I didn’t really know the world of fancy cranberry sauces as a kid. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a class thing, but there’s undoubtedly some kind of cultural component to the canned version. Call it a regional thing, a class thing, whatever — the point is that tasting it feels like tasting home, even for those of us who never really had a home.
So, my dear friends, regardless of how you eat your cranberry sauce and at what table and with what folks, I hope tomorrow is a peaceful and restful and loving experience for you.
And I hope you’ll spare a few thoughts for those who don’t have a table, much less the privilege of being alive to sit at one.
Charlotte's Web Thoughts is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.
You can also follow my work on Twitter.
You have written the story of my life.
Powerful and painful thoughts, Charlotte. I'm grateful for you, today, tomorrow, and beyond. P.S. My mother catered and cooked quite a few fancy things but always insisted on canned cranberry sauce