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Breaking The Cranberry Mold: New Ways To Savor This Seasonal Berry

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America's Test Kitchen founder Chris Kimball offers advice for going "beyond the cranberry mold" this Thanksgiving.

The New England area where the Pilgrims first settled is cranberry country.

And these early colonists likely enjoyed a version of cranberry sauce on their autumn tables — though it probably took the form of a rough, savory compote, rather than the sweet spin we're most familiar with.

For ideas on using this bitter red berry of the season in new ways this Thanksgiving, NPR Morning Edition's Renee Montagne turned to Chris Kimball, founder of America's Test Kitchen.

Here are his tips for going beyond the cranberry mold.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Makes about 2 1/4 cups

Sometimes, a little embellishment can go a long way. To dress up the standard cranberry sauce recipe on a bag of fresh berries, add a bit of salt or a dash of Cointreau, Kimball says. "It's great. It's simple." This recipe also sprinkles in orange zest.

¾ cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

¼ teaspoon table salt

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through

2 tablespoons orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)

Note: The cooking time in this recipe is intended for fresh berries. If you've got frozen cranberries, do not defrost them before use; just pick through them and add about 2 minutes to the simmering time. Orange juice adds little flavor, but zest and liqueur pack an orange kick.

Bring water, sugar, orange zest, and salt to boil in medium nonreactive saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Stir in cranberries; return to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until saucy, slightly thickened, and about two-thirds of berries have popped open, about 5 minutes. Off heat; stir in orange liqueur. Transfer to nonreactive bowl, cool to room temperature, and serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 7 days; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

Cranberry-Orange Chutney

Makes about 3 cups

Kimball says chutney has a long history of showing up in seasonal meals – a recipe for the condiment appeared in the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons' American Cookery, published in 1796.

"They had cranberry sauce, and don't forget they had a lot of game, so they used the sauce for everything," he says. "They made relishes, chutneys. They'd make jellies out of it or jams, and cranberry sauce goes great with game, so it was perfect."

The recipe below produces a tangy, jam-like relish that Kimball calls a "huge upgrade" over the standard back-of-the-bag cranberry sauce.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 shallot, minced

4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup water

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 cup packed brown sugar

12 ounces (3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries

42-inch-wide strips zest from 1 orange, plus orange segments from 2 peeled oranges

Note: If using frozen cranberries, thaw them before cooking.

  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add shallot, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot has softened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add water, vinegar, and sugar. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add 1½ cups cranberries, orange zest, and orange segments; return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have almost completely broken down and mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add remaining 1½ cups cranberries; continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to burst, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl and cool for at least 1 hour before serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Citrus Salad With Watercress, Dried Cranberries And Pecans

Serves 4 to 6

A salad with fresh greens might not be a common side dish at Thanksgiving dinner, but it's a good way to show off winter fruit like orange and grapefruit. Kimball sprinkles salt and sugar over the orange and grapefruit segments to draw out the excess juice. "Otherwise you end up with a pool of liquid at the bottom of your salad bowl or platter," he says. Top it all off with dried cranberries.

2 red grapefruit

3 navel oranges

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

½ cup pecans, chopped coarse

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 ounces (4 cups) watercress, torn into bite-size pieces

⅔ cup dried cranberries

Note: You may substitute tangelos or Cara Caras for the navel oranges. Valencia and blood oranges can also be used, but since they are smaller, increase the number of fruit to four.

  1. Cut away peel and pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut each fruit in half from pole to pole, then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Transfer fruit to bowl and toss with sugar and ½ ­teaspoon salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer pecans to paper towel–lined plate and set aside.
  3. Drain fruit in colander, reserving 2 tablespoons juice. Transfer fruit to platter, arrange in even layer, and drizzle with oil. Whisk reserved juice, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl. Add watercress, 1/3 cup cranberries, and ¼ cup reserved pecans and toss to coat. Arrange watercress mixture over fruit, leaving 1-inch border around edges. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup cranberries and remaining 1/4 cup reserved pecans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Serves 8

For the topping

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries

¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup blanched slivered almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

3 large eggs, separated

For the topping:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment paper round, and spray with cooking spray. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add cranberries, sugar and jam and cook until cranberries are just softened, about 4 minutes. Strain cranberry mixture over bowl, reserving juices.

Add strained juices to empty skillet and simmer over medium heat until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, about 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in vanilla. Arrange strained berries in single layer in prepared pan. Pour juice mixture over berries and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the cake:

Process almonds and 1/4 cup flour in food processor until finely ground. Add remaining flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Whisk milk and extracts in measuring cup. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture.

Using clean bowl and beaters, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Whisk one-third of whites into batter, then fold in remaining whites. Pour batter over chilled cranberry mixture and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes, then run paring knife around cake and invert onto serving plate. Serve.

Tips: We encountered two recurring problems with this recipe. Cranberries shed a surprising amount of liquid, which can make the cake quite soggy. Precooking the cranberries causes them to release liquid, which can then be reduced to a thick syrup.

We also had trouble with the topping sticking to the pan. Keeping the sugar to a minimum and removing the cake from the pan before it fully cools solves this problem.

To get this cake to come out of the pan cleanly, allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes and gently run the tip of a paring knife around the outside of the cooled cake. To flip the cake, first, cover it with a clean serving plate and invert so that the plate is on the bottom. Then, using a straight upward motion, carefully remove the cake pan, shaking gently as needed to get a clean release of the cake and topping.

Recipes reprinted by permission.

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