Whether you prefer canned or fresh, there is no denying that cranberry sauce is a staple Thanksgiving side. This sweet and tart side dish is loved by some and loathed by others, but either way, it always seems to find its way to the table. But where did the tradition come from?
Cranberries are one of the only fruits native to America
Cranberries are one of the only commercially grown fruits native to the United States. So if you were to pick a fruit to represent the American harvest, cranberries are where it’s at.
And believe it or not, our bees play a huge part in bringing cranberries to your holiday meals each year. Similar to many other fruit crops, bees are needed for adequate pollination. Cranberry flowers are not capable of self-fertilization so pollinators are required to move pollen from one flower to another. Our honey bees will travel to and remain on the cranberry bogs until mid-July; after that, cranberry pollination has ended, and the bees will continue to forage for pollen and nectar from other flowers in the area. Once pollination is over, we move our bees on to the next crop.
Most people know that cranberries are grown in bogs, but that process is considerably newer than you may expect. In the 1930s Oceanspray changed the game by introducing the wet harvest. This is the familiarized version you’ve probably seen photos or commercials of with the farmer standing up to his waist in a cranberry-topped bog. This was the game-changer that enabled cranberries to become more commercially viable.
Instead of having many workers pick the cranberries off vines on dry land, it only takes several people to wait until the cranberries float to the surface of the flooded bog to scoop up the crop.
So we know about pollination, we know about harvesting, but how did the sauce rise to fame?
While we can't know for sure what exactly was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving we do have some records of the Pilgrim governor Willam Bradford sending four men on a "fowling mission," which could have meant hunting for turkey, goose, duck, or even swan.
Aside from that, we can only speculate as to what was else on the menu. We do know that Native Americans were known to eat cranberries regularly and use them as a natural dye for clothing, so chances are they were available on Thanksgiving Day all the way back to 1621. But the sweetened cranberry sauce wasn’t invented until later.
The original cranberry sauce recipe
Even if cranberries were naturally found in the Americas, they could not be sweetened with sugar. The first Americans brought over sugar cane, but couldn't figure out how to make it grow in our soil until nearly 50 years later.
Reports of the original Native American cranberry sauce recipes — made simply with sugar and water — date back as far as the mid-to-late 17th century, and by the 18th century, cranberry sauce was a known accompaniment to game meat like turkey.
The first acknowledgment of a cranberry sauce recipe can be found in the 1796 cookbook American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, which calls for serving roast turkey with "boiled onions and cranberry sauce.
Canned cranberry jelly actually came about as a solution to a common problem with the finicky nature of cranberry harvests: the modern method of mechanical harvesting can often damage the delicate, tart berries, leaving them too imperfect to sell.
Ocean Spray's solution was to turn these less attractive berries into a jelly-like consistency and sell them in cans, which they've been doing since 1912.
But we have decided to take the processed sugar out of the mix and go all-natural with our fresh, Orange Blossom Honey Cranberry Sauce Recipe.
Orange Blossom Honey Cranberry Sauce
Servings: 2-1/4 cups
Total Time: 15 Minutes
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup water
⅔ cup World Honey Market Orange Blossom Honey
12 oz bag fresh cranberries
Zest of one orange, about 2 teaspoons
In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the orange juice, water, and honey heat until it is well blended. Add the cranberries and orange zest and bring to a boil on medium heat.
Boil gently for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the cranberries have burst open.
Transfer sauce to a serving bowl.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. The sauce will thicken as it cools.