Growing up, I always ate Thanksgiving dinner with my friends’ families since my own family never celebrated it—not because they weren’t thankful on that day, but because it was never a part of our Southeast Asian culture.
So when that fourth Thursday rolled around every November, I couldn’t wait to partake in the classic American holiday.
I loved watching the grand entrance of the turkey, steaming hot from the oven and being carved up at the table. I loved the green bean casseroles with French fried onions, the marshmallow-glazed sweet potatoes, and especially the Marie Callender’s pies. (Pecan was my favorite.)
But most of all, I loved the cranberry sauce that came out of a can. It was so fun to see the wiggly, jiggly relish scooped out of the can in one piece, plunked into a serving dish, and sliced into individual rounds.
I still get nostalgic for that molded cranberry jelly, even though I now make my own and my palate has shifted to fancier cranberry sauces with ginger and bourbon and other delights.
I guess it’s the shape that I’m most fond of, being perfectly cylindrical with its signature ridges, and its appearance on the dinner table always brings me back to some of my favorite childhood memories.
These days, I try to stay away from high fructose corn syrup as much as I reasonably can, so store-bought molded cranberry sauce is no longer an option on my Thanksgiving menu.
Did you know? The famous (or infamous) jellied cranberry sauce “log” from a can is most preferred by American consumers, totaling 75 percent of all cranberry sauce sales each year. It was invented in 1912 by cranberry bog owner Marcus L. Urann, who sought to extend (and maximize) the short selling season by canning his bruised cranberries. By 1941, canned cranberry sauce became commercially available across the country and is still a Thanksgiving staple to this day.
But in the spirit of the holiday, I thought it would be fun to resurrect that red jelly in a can—by making a fresh, wholesome jelly that’s simply molded in a can.
The flavors are fairly traditional, with orange juice to sweeten the tartness of the cranberries. I like to add a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg for warmth, but the spices are optional.
Even the can is optional; if you want to make a non-molded cranberry jelly to spread on biscuits, simply pour the sauce (once it’s been boiled) into jars and refrigerate until set.
The jars (pint or half-pint) can also be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (though people at higher altitudes will need to make adjustments to the time as necessary). If you’re new to home canning—and even if you aren’t—be sure to check out these tested-and-true, newly updated canning tips that will streamline your process.
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Homemade “Tin Can” Molded Cranberry Jelly
Makes 1 (15-ounce) can
3 cups cranberries
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon low-sugar pectin (optional, see note below)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
Note: Cranberries contain enough natural pectin to gel on their own. But if this is your first time making a molded jelly and you want to make sure you get a good set, you can add a little pectin to this recipe as a fail-safe. (I like Ball RealFruit Pectin.)
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
Once the cranberries have burst and the sauce has thickened into a jam-like consistency, about 15 minutes, remove the pot from heat.
Press the cranberries through a food mill (fitted with its finest screen) or a fine mesh sieve (with a spoon) to strain the sauce of any seeds and pulp. You should be left with a fairly smooth, syrupy sauce.
Pour the cranberry sauce into a clean, empty, 15-ounce can. (You’ll want to reuse a can that previously contained a mild food, like beans or corn, lest you want Texan chili-flavored jelly!)
Let the sauce cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight until the jelly is set.
When you’re ready to serve, gently run a butter knife around the sides of the jelly to loosen it from the mold. Try to keep the knife as close to the can as possible so you don’t inadvertently shave off the ridges.
Shake the jelly log out onto a serving dish and see if your guests can taste the difference!
More cranberry recipes for your Thanksgiving table:
- Cranberry Moscow Mules, Sugared Cranberries, and Holiday Nuts
- Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider
- Cranberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
Where to buy kitchen supplies for homemade cranberry sauce
Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 4.5 Quart Saucepan | Ball RealFruit Pectin | OXO Good Grips Food Mill | OXO Good Grips 8-Inch Fine Mesh Strainer | 365 Everyday Value Organic Cannelini Beans
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on November 22, 2015.