What Is Cranberry Relish?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen

Cranberry relish is a term used to describe a type of condiment or accompaniment, most common in North America and made primarily from fresh or frozen whole cranberries. It is preferred by some as an alternative to canned, jellied cranberry sauce. Like many traditional foods, there are probably dozens of recipes for this dish, if not more. While the basics for these recipes are generally much the same, nearly all home cooks and chefs have their own version, many handed down for generations.

A typical recipe for cranberry relish incorporates four basic ingredients. Fresh or frozen cranberries, apples, oranges, and sugar are combined and cooked. The sweetness of the apples, oranges and sugar compliments the tartness of the cranberries. Depending on the recipe, other ingredients may be added and can include fresh or candied ginger, various liqueurs, other fruits, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or even pepper.

The methods by which these ingredients are combined can also vary from recipe to recipe. Some call for the relish to be finely ground in a food processor while others call for the fruits to be left in large chunks. Cooking times can vary as well, and some recipes call for the mixture not to be cooked but to be refrigerated overnight to give the flavors a chance to blend together. Most typically, however, a cranberry relish is cooked, which serves to thicken the relish by cooking the sugar and softening the cranberries and other fruits, if added.

A major variation on the basic sweet and tart flavors of a typical cranberry relish is the addition of savory or spicy flavors. Some recipes call for minced onion, horseradish, or spices like pepper. These flavors blend well with the underlying sweet and tart flavors, giving a piquancy to the dish that goes well with meat dishes like wild game and turkey.

While most commonly associated with traditional Thanksgiving dinners in North America, cranberry relish is enjoyed by many year round. The availability of frozen cranberries, which retain their flavor and crispness very well when frozen, as well as other fresh fruits like apples and oranges, means that this dish can be made whenever desired. It is versatile as well and pairs nicely with many meats and even salmon.

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