My Grandma Bryson was a terrific cook, who (as my cousin, Mike Bryson wrote) “routinely prepared elaborate meals singlehandedly in her miniscule kitchen.” Both she and her mother (my great-grandmother Hicks) spent a lot of time with me in the kitchen during family visits, teaching me how to cook and bake. My favorites were her chocolate sauce (which I wrote about last year), cole slaw, and cranberry sauce.
For years, I looked forward to being served her whole-bean cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. I was convinced it involved complicated preparations and a long-standing family recipe. (Secret family recipes are not, in fact, unheard of in our family.) I don’t remember when I finally asked her to show me how she made it, but I do remember my shocked disbelief when I found out she just used the recipe on the back of the bag of cranberries: 1 bag of cranberries, one cup of water, one cup of sugar, and boil until the cranberries pop.
I’ve continued to enjoy this easy, traditional cranberry sauce but in recent years I’ve also played with new preparations for cranberry sauce and cranberry relish. (My favorite cranberry relish is the one that NPR host Susan Stamberg manages to recite every year – as she says it sounds terrible and tastes terrific, at least if you like onions and horseradish.)
This year, I decided to try a spicy, less sweet, grown-up version of whole-bean cranberry sauce. As usual, I worked with what I had on-hand. I replaced sugar with (a smaller amount of) local honey, then replaced the water with pure unsweetened cranberry juice and red wine. I’d been given some nice jalapeños from a friend’s garden and since I like the combination of sweet and spicy, I chopped up a few and added them to the sauce, seeds and all. Finally, I cut some fresh mint from the pots on my patio and added a broken-up cinnamon stick. It was quick and easy, especially since I didn’t bother to seed the jalapeño and just tossed in whole sprigs of mint (then fished them out after the sauce had cooled and the flavor had infused). Any of the proportions can be varied according to your taste – this is a relatively tart sauce with just a hint of heat from the peppers, and a subtle taste of cinnamon and mint.
In a large saucepan combine:
- 1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and picked over
- 2/3 cup honey (preferably local)
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail)
- 2/3 cup red wine (use whatever you have on hand and don’t mind drinking)
- 2-3 jalapeños, roughly chopped (remove seeds and ribs if you want the flavor but not the heat – I didn’t remove them)
- several large sprigs of fresh mint (I used about a handful)
- one 6-inch cinnamon stick, broke into pieces
Bring to a boil, stirring frequently and keeping an eye on it to be sure it doesn’t boil over. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about five minutes until the cranberries have popped. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove the mint sprigs and pieces of cinnamon stick. Store in the refrigerator.