Cranberry Sauce: A recipe for disaster

Thanksgiving 2013I come from a family of mostly competent cooks. If you ignore the ones not tall enough to reach the counter and the ones who spent more time perfecting the craft of eating growing up, my family’s cooking skills basically span the whole length of the spectrum from “Spontaneous experimental enthusiast” (just dump ALL THE GOOD THINGS into a pot/onto a grill) to “Stubbornly traditional” (if you’re not using a meat thermometer you are WRONG).

I was a member of the eating-skills focus group in our home.

I thrived in college. I’m a comfort food monster and I’m really good at settling for plastic that has been labeled as food by faceless corporations around the country. God bless those sodium-packing princes of capitalism. Cheese puffs saved my life in 2011.

Different story. The one I’m trying to tell right now involves me actually stepping into a kitchen to help with our expat-Thanksgiving.

Now, I wish I could tell you about how I ended up discovering what beets are or about how Marilyn uses carrots instead of sweet potatoes and you can’t even tell the difference, but I won’t. I’m going to tell you about “my dish.”

At home my dish is the vegetable medley because it’s my favorite thing to eat and because my sisters claimed the better dishes first. But because I was sent a can of Ocean Spray cranberries I thought, “Hey, I’ll do the cranberry sauce this year!” I volunteered my services and was drafted into the kitchen crew.

Mistake #1

I have no idea what cranberry sauce actually is. What we make at home is really more of a Jello salad. But because they both have cranberries I assume they are the same thing.

Mistake #2

I should have emailed home for the recipe ASAP but I didn’t. I honestly, truly and sadly have no reason why I did not do this very simple, basic, idiot-proof step. When I realized I needed the recipe to make it, I panicked and tried getting in touch with my sisters, but the nine hour time difference just sort of killed communication. It wasn’t until I started trying to find recipes online that I realized – to my horror – that cranberry sauce is actually a thing and it’s not the thing I had in mind.

Mistake #3

I should have told Marilyn. I should have said, “I’m so sorry, I messed up. I have no idea what cranberry sauce is, I don’t have the recipe for my jello stuff and I am not good enough to fake it. Please let me recant my promise to make this dish and do something else!” It would have been embarrassing but she wouldn’t have minded and probably would have made something really good with the cranberries instead. But I have been wrestling with something called pride and it has been winning a lot lately. So I didn’t say anything.

To give you a really good picture of how this all turned out, I’m going to lay out the actual recipe next to the “Mary version.” Grab your popcorn, cozy into the nearest chair or half-empty laundry basket, and enjoy.


Cranberry Sauce Jello Salad

ACTUAL RECIPE: Dissolve 2 boxes of cherry Jello into 1 cup of boiling water

MARY’S VERSION: Carefully examine the bag of Jello options smuggled in from the USA. Pick the peach Jello because there is no cherry option, lime would throw off the taste and wild berry would mess up the color something awful. Only use one box of Jello because you don’t completely remember how Jello-y this dish is supposed to be. Use two cups of water because you can never remember if the 1/2 food/water ratio is a universal rule to cooking or just applies to rice.

ACTUAL RECIPE: Remove from heat and add 1 cup of cold water

MARY’S VERSION: Because college taught you nothing, you waited till the last possible minute to start this project. Thus, all the burners on the stove are occupied and you have to boil water in a coffee pot. But then you go upstairs to check facebook and when you come back the water has stopped boiling. You’re not sure how long it has been cooling down but you don’t want to look like an idiot and reboil it so you’re going to play it cool (no pun…whatever) and just go with it. If the Jello looks like it’s not dissolving super well, that’s because it isn’t. Now add your cold water. Two cups again, because you’re still an idiot.

ACTUAL RECIPE: Add 2 cups of plain yogurt

MARY’S VERSION: You have two smallish tubs of yogurt and you’re not sure how much to add. Determine how much you need based on the shade of pink the mixture turns as you add the yogurt. Fool proof method. I’m sure Michelangelo used it all the time.

ACTUAL RECIPE: Add 2 cans of Ocean Spray cranberries

MARY’S VERSION: You only have one can of cranberry sauce-stuff. Just dump it in. Once you mix it, you’ll begin to realize that it may have been better to squash the clumps out before dumping it into the yogurt-stuff. As you try to remedy this by using a whisk and fork, try not to spill the Jello-stuff all over everything because at this point, you’ve made a huge mess already.


MARY’S VERSION: Chill. Check every half hour to see if it has set. At one point, sit down beside the fridge, hugging your knees pathetically, saying, “You don’t have to serve this if it looks like it might kill someone” and “I’m sorry I ruined Thanksgiving.”

ACTUAL RECIPE: Serve cold on plates

MARY’S VERSION: Your Cran-Jello hasn’t set yet. The turkey looks beautiful and the stuffing looks amazing and even the fake sweet potato-carrot thing turned out nicely. And your Crapberry-nothing sauce is still in liquid form like a stubborn 4th grader who refuses to get off the desk and sit down like a normal child. You may commence the tears of apology and the promise that “It will set eventually! It always does when my Mom makes it!” No one will actually care but you because no one can take their eyes off the mashed potatoes and gravy. There is a class system at the Thanksgiving table. Now go get your fork and have a good time.


We did serve my cranberry whatever-it-ended-up-being on Sunday (it took a loooong time to set) and we had to serve it in bowls because … it never really got Jello-y.

But someone said it tasted like ice cream and everyone had seconds. It was one of the more popular left-overs, and definitely the pinkest.

I have the actual recipe now but I may just stick with the new, accidental one. We’ll call it the Mary-Berry Scary-Sauce and it will be a reminder that if Thanksgiving was actually about the food, my home would be the most depressing household in the neighborhood.

Cheers. Happy Thanksgiving and Holidays.


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