Boomers Still Argue Over the Best Way to Eat Cranberries at Thanksgiving

The Great Debate over which is the best cranberry preparation for Thanksgiving continues to rage on. In Mister Boomer’s experience, there were three distinct camps: those who made their own and refused to buy any cranberry product in a can; those who preferred the relish-style canned product with whole cranberries; and those who only wanted the jellied cranberry sauce in a can. Short of marrying into one tradition or another, boomers tended to keep the style they grew up with through the years, and passed it on to the next generation.

For the purposes of our nostalgia here, we can totally discount those who made their own cranberry sauce from scratch. Mister Boomer was a full-fledged adult before he came across anyone who spent the time doing that. He was in his 30s before he ever purchased fresh cranberries himself, and then, only for a baking recipe. This is a discussion of can vs. can.

The first record of canned cranberries claims it came out of New England in 1912. That would make sense on two fronts: cranberries are native to North America, and that area remains the largest growing region for the fruit. Canning the fruit enabled it to be eaten all year long, but to this day, the vast majority of cranberries are consumed between the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays.

It was 1941 before jellied cranberry sauce hit the shelves for consumers. So, it makes perfect sense that Baby Boomer families, starting out right after World War II, would be the target of marketing for the jellied sauce, setting the table for it to become a family tradition of boomers coast to coast.

Mister B and his siblings often fought over who would get to open the can of jellied cranberry sauce, an annual ritual. It was by watching their older brother perform the sacred can-opening rites that Mister B and his sister learned the “correct” way. First, the can was removed from the refrigerator. It was important in Mister B’s family to chill the product. Then, flip the can over, take the manual can opener and pierce the bottom once or twice. This would allow air into the can from the bottom when the top lid was fully removed. The idea, of course, was to get the entire contents of the can to slide out, pristine and untouched by cutlery or human hands. Besides, after a few shakes of the can, the contents would shift and produce a satisfying slurping sound as it kerplopped to a waiting dish. This sound factor was part of the annual ritual, welcomed by Mister B and his siblings.

If successful, the contents, thicker than Jell-O, remained standing on a plate. A quick flip on its side revealed the molded circular rings produced by the inside of the can itself. These rings were part of the preciousness of the process in that they provided a template for slicing. The perfect cranberry jellied sauce slice was about a quarter of an inch thick, maintaining its roundness. Mister Boomer and his siblings were allowed to cut their own, since it could be sliced with a butter knife.

Mister Boomer does not recall that jellied cranberry sauce made a return at Christmastime. In his household, it was strictly a Thanksgiving accompaniment. Of note with the technology of today’s cans, Mister B has noticed the bottom of the can has rounded edges, eliminating the straight-edge lip, making it much harder to pierce the bottom with a can opener. The can note claims this rounded bottom (or top for some manufacturers), contains a pocket of air that helps propel the product from its cylindrical home. Hmmm. Mister B is skeptical. He still uses his handy crank can opener; no fancy electric models for him. No matter, there is probably still an ice pick in the back of a drawer somewhere. Worst case scenario, there is always the Swiss Army knife. Traditions must be upheld!

How about you, boomers? Did your family prefer the whole berry relish, or the jellied sauce in a can? Or are you from one of those families who pass along homemade recipes using fresh cranberries?

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