It has recently come to my attention that there is a horrific piece of misinformation being circulated about the Thanksgiving meal. The source of this propaganda has a reputation for knowing all things southern, and they are, by default, making the pretentious claim of being the all-knowing authority on southern traditions suitable for the holiday feast.
It’s a southern thing, they say.
They make great short story videos. They are funny, most of the time. They seem to understand the nuances of southern culture. But bless their little hearts, they have kicked the wrong hornet’s nest this time.
They have insulted the cranberry sauce of my childhood, and I am calling them out.
Right out of the gate they flat out accuse my cranberry sauce of being “from the Devil,” and label anyone who partakes of it as a “sinner.” According to their pompous allegations “no decent southern home” would serve cranberry sauce from a can.
Before I get into the religious debate proposed here, I should tell you that they are not against cranberry sauce in general, just the “gelatinous glob”, as they call it, that I have eaten my entire life at over 65 Thanksgiving meals.
No argument is more fraught with danger than a religious one. One thing for sure, the religious roots run deep and wide here in the south. We know a thing or two about matters of faith and we sure know a thing or two about food. If the Devil wanted to ruin a good Thanksgiving meal, he wouldn’t waste his time on cranberry sauce. He’d try to convince us to get rid of the cornbread dressing and use stuffing seasoned with Rosemary and Turmeric. More on that later.
The problem with saying that cranberry sauce is of the Devil is that it implicates my Mama in the Devil’s business, which are fighting words. This is the woman who sang in the church choir, fried chicken on Sundays and made biscuits and gravy for supper four out of five weeknights for decades. This is the woman who cheered for Bob Horner and Dale Murphy and attended every Little League game in which I ever played.
She served cranberry sauce from a can on Thanksgiving right alongside the turkey and dressing and giblet gravy. We gave thanks to the Almighty for each one of those meals and not once did we ever consider the Devil a guest at our table.
One obvious flaw in the argument against my beloved sauce is that their profane banter is based simply on appearance. Not once do they speak of ever having tasted this delicacy. The insolent disrespect is so obvious.
According to the naysayers, no one in their right mind would want a “can-shaped red blob of floppy goo” on their Thanksgiving table. Really? Have you tried this blob of floppy goo? I think not.
Besides, the can shape is one of the appealing features of this truly fine cuisine. The molded lines in that beautiful cranberry cylinder are pure genius. In case you’re not familiar, those marks are the guides for flawless and evenly portioned slices of cranberry hockey pucks that lay out on a platter in a delightfully tiered array of eye-popping perfection. You looking for culinary presentation? You’re welcome.
But let’s not get too wrapped up in appearances. The true inspiration is in the taste and texture. Made from real cranberries. Natural fruit sugars. No fake ingredients. Taste buds exploding with happiness. I’ll take two cran-pucks with my meal and one more for my pre-dessert splurge at the end. Please and thank you ma’am.
But who wants a food that you can’t chew, they ask. It just squishes between your teeth and mushes around in your mouth. They even call it “gross.”
If that’s all you’ve got, let me ask you something. Have you tried banana pudding? Is there a problem with whipped cream? Surely, you’re not gonna turn up your nose at my mama’s banana pudding because you can’t chew it?
I can name several more southern foods that are savored best by mushing them between your gums and taste buds. Peach cobbler, when done right, is a non-chewable mush that brings a full-grown man to his knees. Half the sensory pleasure is in the squish. Add ice cream to it, also non chewable, and you die a happy man.
The bogus complaints in this attempt to sway the uninitiated are endless. Cranberry sauce in a can, they say, is not even a real sauce. A true sauce pours, like a thick cream. Ragu is a sauce, they say. Hollandaise is a sauce. Alfredo is a sauce. Even gravy is a sauce.
Wait. Did they just insult gravy, too?
Yes. The tell-tale sign of ignorance reveals itself. I’m no chef. I’ll probably get corrected by official graduates of Cordon Blu. But gravy ain’t no sauce. No southern cook in her right mind has ever referred to pork chop gravy as a sauce.
My dad never said, “Please pass me the brown sauce for my biscuit.” My sister, who often ate gravy out of the bowl with a spoon, never once said, “I could eat this whole bowl of sauce.”
If these people don’t understand the difference between gravy and sauce, they don’t deserve to be heard on the finer points of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.
In my extensive research, I have found that a sauce is any liquid, cream or semi-solid food served with or used in the preparation of other foods. A good sauce can be cooked with the food and served hot, or it can be served cold on a separate dish. The best sauce adds flavor, moisture, texture, and visual appeal to the main course.
I give you cranberry sauce from a can. The deep rose color and the smooth texture goes perfectly with the golden brown and more coarse texture of the giblet gravy, not sauce, poured over a moist and warm cornbread dressing.
And here’s another thing. One more evidence that these wanna-be-southern-food-critics should think before they write. In this affront to my cranberry sauce, they rave about stuffing. You hear that? Stuffing? Whose grandma have they been visiting for Thanksgiving? A very clear delineation in southern versus northern holiday kitchens is the making of cornbread dressing. Nobody with at least five generations of Thanksgiving meals below the Mason Dixon line serves stuffing, or even speaks of stuffing.
My advice. Never trust an opinion on cranberry sauce from a person who serves stuffing. You might as well take advice on how to smoke a Boston Butt from a guy who thinks that a Tyson frozen barbeque dinner is the cat’s meow.
I know I’m walking a thin line here. Me, the rookie cook, trying to defend a sentimental Thanksgiving tradition that is close to my heart. I may even get hate mail on this one for going overboard. But I just couldn’t let it go.
May you enjoy the best meal of your life this week. May your turkey be golden and moist. May your dressing and giblet gravy be a taste of heaven.
And may your cranberry sauce be squishy.