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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

Fresh cranberry relish for Thanksgiving

In 10 minutes, you can have a side dish that’s infinitely better tasting that the canned product most people secretly loathe.

SPLOTSCH! That sound can only mean one thing at this time of year: canned jellied cranberry sauce, and according to last year’s Harris poll on behalf of Instacart, it’s the most-hated side dish of Thanksgiving.

Yet, millions of cans are sold every year, which means this food item that’s been around since the 1940s is either brought to the table only to be later thrown away or it’s being used in another application (perhaps as a base for glaze).

The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association reports that this super fruit is high in antioxidants, which can help to improve our immune systems (more important now than perhaps ever before), but only about 5 percent of cranberries are sold as fresh fruit. The rest is used to make sauce, juice, dried fruit, and other in applications. More fun cranberry trivia: It takes 4,400 cranberries to make a gallon of juice.

While I feel a little guilty to disparage the invention of Mr. Marcus L. Urann, let’s make 2020 the year we forget the canned cranberry sauce and make this fresh and way-more-delicious alternative.

fresh cranberry relish in a crystal bowl with a candle in background on an autumn tablecloth.
Cranberry relish is the right blend of tart and sweet.

Now, I get it; traditions die hard. As a kid, I remember our Thanksgiving table had the gross jellied cranberry sauce as well as this fresh relish. I suppose this duality of fruit was offered in the spirit of giving dinner guests whatever they wanted. But hear me when I say the aroma of this relish being made screams Thanksgiving every bit as loudly as a roasted turkey coming out of the oven. In addition, when you make your own cranberries, you get to control the amount of sugar used, so if you prefer something a bit tart, cut back from the cup that’s in the recipe.

Each year, Mom made the cranberry relish a day or two in advance, another brilliant point to this side. Early prep allows fruit to macerate with the sugar, better mingling the flavors. Still, the cranberries will have a little bite to them—as opposed to the jellied mush of canned sauce—but I quite prefer the texture.

Now, I make the cranberry relish, and just as Mom did it, the recipe begins with The Beast.

Vintage Mighty Chef food processor sitting on black granite countertop with an apple, orange and cranberries.
"The Beast" is Mom's food processor from the 1970s.

This thing is so old the only online reference to it is a shot of an owner’s manual with no accompanying information. Our manual is long gone, but my best guess is that Mom either bought this appliance in the early 1970s or it was a holiday gift from that era. In addition to the cranberry relish, she’d haul out The Beast to make French onion soup (lifesaver), mix a stiff dough, and handle other unsavory kitchen tasks. I believe she felt The Beast somehow upped her cooking game. It was a “chef-y” kitchen appliance for her, and Mom felt somewhat empowered by having it on hand.

The plastic casing now is yellowed, but the motor somehow works just fine. It easily weighs 10 pounds (catch your finger under one of its little legs when you set it on your counter and there will be stars before your eyes). It rests on the bottom of my baker’s rack, and every now and again when I glance over at it, I can hear it faintly say, “feed me Seymour, feed me.”

(If anybody has any history of Mighty Chef Corporation, I’d be curious to know more.) Drop a comment at the end of this post.

Anyway, back to cranberries. This relish recipe is almost as easy an opening a can.

After rinsing the cranberries, it’s time to give The Beast what it wants, which is to finely chop the little red spheres so that you can transfer the fruit to a mixing bowl. After which time, you can core one apple (your choice, but I usually use a sweeter apple because the cranberries are tart) and cut it into quarters. Grind it up in The Beast and scoop out the apple into the bowl. Next, remove seeds from half an orange and trim off ends (I used a Clementine because I didn’t have a navel orange in the house). Feed it to The Beast…you see the pattern here.

finely chopped cranberries, red apple and an orange in a glass mixing bowl.
The Beast finely chops cranberries plus an apple and orange in seconds.

Add the sugar (1 cup is in recipe, but you could cut it back to ¾ cup without a problem). I also add ½ teaspoon each of ginger (fresh or powdered) and allspice. Should there be any larger parts of orange peel in the bowl, just pick it out and discard. Mix it all together, cover, and refrigerate.

The food processor does all the work! If you don’t have The Beast or any food processor, a blender would chop the fruit for you, but you might have to play around with the settings.

You may ask why are cranberries—one of only a few commercially grown fruits native to the United States—are part of Thanksgiving. Cranberries were grown by Native Americans, including the Wampanoag, who still today celebrate the cranberry harvest. Were fresh cranberries part of that infamous meal in 1621? Who’s to say, but I think it’s important to remember the Wampanoag on Thanksgiving.

For many Americans, this holiday can be overshadowed by our dark history of atrocities committed against Native Americans. Sadly, this is a history we cannot erase, but I hope we can learn from it and become better, more sensitive people with each passing year. For me, a ridiculously simple act of making a dish from fresh cranberries is a food conduit to a Native people I’ll probably never meet. Let us this Thanksgiving remember to give thanks for Native Americans around this country and for their traditions.


Fresh cranberry relish

Yield: About 6 cups

With the right balance of sweet and tangy, this side dish is a fresh complement to the day’s mix of rich gravy and sauce. It’s also a wonderful condiment for those leftover turkey sandwiches.


1 (12-ounce) package of fresh cranberries

1 apple

½ orange

1 cup granulated sugar (or less, depending on your preference)

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice


1. Place rinsed cranberries in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the cored apple to the processor and repeat process.

3. Add the orange to the processor and repeat process.

4. To the fruit mixture in the bowl, add 1 cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon fresh or dry ginger and ½ teaspoon allspice.

5. Mix until all ingredients are combined, cover and place in refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

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