“Arrived at Dr. Tufts where I found a fine Wild Goose on the Spit and Cranberries in the Skillet for Dinner”
– John Adams, April 8, 1767
For the first of my colonial Thanksgiving recipes, I’m starting with the basics.
Even I, a former picky eater, would have to agree that no Thanksgiving is complete without cranberry sauce. The modern variety is often mixed up with citrus peel and a variety of other ingredients that might not have been readily available in colonial era New England.
When I saw a version of this recipe online, I knew I had to try it. Thank goodness for good instincts, because it’s great. Simple enough to make over a campfire, I’d wager, this recipe is about as basic as it gets, but no less delicious for all that. The finished cranberries retain enough of their structure to be more easily added to a fork than modern sauce. Especially if one’s fork only has two or three tines, as many colonial forks did. The brandy taste is there, but because it cooked off, it’s mostly the tasty flavors left, rather than the alcohol. Just sweet enough, with the tartness of the berries shining through, it’s a great and easy addition to a holiday table.
(Sidenote: My mother’s family grew up calling cranberry sauce, “plutz”. Anyone else heard of that?)
Skillet Cranberries Recipe
Serves 4-6, so at least double for a large group
- 1 pound fresh cranberries
- 2 cups turbinado or other raw sugar
- ¼ cup brandy or rum
Spread the cranberries in the bottom of a skillet. Sprinkle the sugar over them and place in an oven set to about 275F for about an hour, or until the berries are very soft. Remove from the oven and carefully pour in the brandy or rum to deglaze the pan, careful of hot spatters. Stir gently if needed to unstick any berries from the bottom of the skillet. You can either return the skillet to the oven or cook on the stovetop until the alcohol evaporates.
Can be made several days ahead of time, and kept in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.