Cranberry sauce has a special status in my holiday menu. All the other items on the Thanksgiving table, be it turkey/Tofurkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, green beans, cornbread, greens or macaroni and cheese...are nothing without cranberry sauce. Nothing. To me it is the one dish that unites all others. There are no other tart and bitter flavors (except maybe greens) in the traditional Thanksgiving feast and so it provides the crucial balance to all the savory, sweet, and salty that is going on.
I am no purist when it comes to cranberry sauce. I can enjoy orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove, allspice, pepper, chilies, onions, apples, raisins, figs, nuts, and the kitchen sink in there, but...my instinct is to keep it simple. With just five ingredients, this cranberry sauce could not be more straight forward. The intrigue comes from the one ingredient that adds a distinctly outdoorsy, seasonal, new yet compatible flavor to your holiday meals: Juniper Berries.
Let's talk about those Juniper Berries for a minute. There are many species of Juniper, but only one, common juniper, is used for culinary purposes. Gin would be the comestible in which most people have experienced the flavor of juniper berries. It has a wonderful piney flavor that is full of potential for the curious cook. I made a Meyer lemon, juniper and sage wine cocktail a few years ago and have wanted to do more with juniper ever since. Recipes for game with juniper sauce are common and often include cherries so I was inspired. I felt the mix of cherries and cranberries could help add sweetness without quite as much sugar as sometimes gets tossed in to a cranberry sauce. White wine also adds another subtle layer and a little more sugar depending on the sweetness of the wine you use.
This recipe is really flexible as well. Fresh or frozen fruit will work. Dried cherries, maybe 1/2 C instead of a full C of fresh/frozen, would work nicely if they are soaked overnight in the wine plus extra water to cover. Then use all of the soaking liquid in the cooking and just cook it down a little longer to get your desired consistency.
In order for the juniper berries to release more of their flavor, they need to be crushed. Just pound them until they are split open and somewhat broken. Give them a smell in the process. Wonderful!
In this recipe I leave the juniper berries right in with the cranberries and cherries. This way there is an unmistakable bite of juniper here and there. It's rustic if you want to call it that, but that is the way I like it. Another alternative for folks not wanting to bite into the berries is as follows: Increase the juniper to about 40 berries, crush them, and combine them with the wine in the pan. Bring it up to a simmer, turn off the heat and cover to steep the berries in the hot wine for about 10 minutes. Strain the berries out of the wine and add it back to the pan with the cranberry, cherry, and sugar and cook as directed.
If at any point during the cooking you feel the need for a little extra liquid, just add a tablespoon of wine or water at a time. Fresh or frozen fruit will release a little water of it's own when heated, so there should be enough liquid with 1/4 C wine, covering the pan to simmer, and cooking over a low heat.
Simple method: Combine, bring to a boil, simmer covered over low heat! This recipe also scales very easily so make as much as you need. Just add a little simmering time if necessary for the cranberries to pop, completely soften, and fall apart. Cranberry sauce is of course perfect for your Thanksgiving or holiday proteins (and everything else on the table) as well as sandwiches, cheese boards and fish. Enjoy!
Cranberry Cherry Sauce with Juniper Berries
- 30 dried juniper berries
- 1 C fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1 C fresh or frozen cherries
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 C white wine
*NOTE: The measures for cranberry and cherries can be approximate. Let the berries and cherries heap over the top of the measure a little as they are bulky and hard to measure.
Crush the juniper berries with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon until flattened and broken open. Combine the juniper, cranberries, cherries, sugar and wine in a small sauce pan, stir to combine, and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer over low heat 8 to 10 minutes or until all the cranberries are popped and have fallen apart. As it is simmering stir a couple of times to check if the cranberries are done.
If you like a looser sauce remove it from the heat at this time. If you like a thicker sauce, cook it down with the lid off one or two more minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.
Yield: 1 C depending on your desired thickness
The sauce will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator and also freezes well.