Photo: Nomadic Lass (flickr).

CANADA—Thanksgiving.  A time to be thankful; to eat with the aim of achieving torpor.  But within this noble holiday lurks an outlier.  A food that’s a traditional part of the holiday meal, but one that poses many questions.  I’m talking about cranberry sauce.

First of all, when invited to a friend’s home for the holiday meal, how much cranberry sauce do I bring?  Is it a condiment?  Or a side dish?  Let’s say the dinner will have ten people.  If we’re talking turkey, it’s an easy formula: one pound of bird per person.  But if you miscalculate the cranberry sauce, leftovers will linger in the back of the fridge until next Thanksgiving.  Conversely, nobody wants to go for seconds and have a sad little open space on their plate because the cranberries are gone.

This brings me to my next question: cranberry sauce, cranberry relish or canned cranberries?  It’s a divisive query.  Cranberry sauce tends to be a sweeter, purer form of the fruit.  Cranberry relish is on the tart side and often contains orange zest, pineapple or other unwelcome surprises.  Then there’s the black sheep of the cranberry world, canned cranberries.  For some, the sight and sound of twelve ounces of solid red jelly sliding out of a can is a signifier that dinner is served.  For others, the blob of gelatinous sauce with its tin-can indentations is an offense to the sacred meal.

Cranberry sauce can make you the goat or the hero of Thanksgiving.  If you think you can get away with omitting it from your spread, think again.  There will always be at least one person who will feel its absence deeply.  God forbid it’s a child and cranberries are the only part of the meal they’ll consume.  Adults are only slightly more accommodating.  They may act as if it’s no big deal, but the story of their keenly felt loss will come to light with the second glass of wine.

So tread lightly this Thanksgiving. Too much, too little, the wrong kind – there’s really no winning when it comes to cranberries.  Pick your poison and good luck.  But really, what do I care?  I hate cranberry sauce.

By Molly Donovan

I grew up in the USA, but don't hold that against me because I'm also Canadian. Just think of me as the mole.

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