Giving thanks for sauce in a can

The Baltimore Sun

There is a tendency in this country to not leave well enough alone, to try to improve things that need no improvement, and this is especially true when it comes to the Thanksgiving meal.

Take, for example, cranberry sauce.

I think I speak for all clear-thinking Americans when I say: We don't need any orange peels in our cranberry sauce, OK?

We don't need any blueberries, cinnamon, nutmeg or currants in it.

We don't need no stinkin' raisins or pecans in it, either. (Sorry, started channeling the great movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for some reason ... )

No, cranberry sauce should be what it's always been: a little jellied log that plops out of the can with the indentations still etched in it, the way God and your sainted grandmother intended it to be.

Why tinker with something that's been so wonderful for so many years?

Does anyone look at the Venus de Milo and think: Oh, c'mon, at least give her one arm?

Does anyone take in the Mona Lisa and think: Let's do something with those eyes. She looks shifty. What's she trying to hide?

Does anyone visit the Taj Mahal and think: It's fine as far as it goes. But how about a fog machine right there when you first walk in and a laser light show each night at 9?

No. Yet here is cranberry sauce, this perfect Thanksgiving side dish, and people feel compelled to tinker endlessly with it.

Where does this sort of arrogance come from?

OK, I'll tell you where it comes from.

It comes from the homemade-is-best crowd, the same busybodies who watch all these cooking shows on TV and get all excited and go running into the kitchen, rattling pots and pans, on a holy quest to fiddle with every recipe known to man.

"Have fun with your cranberry sauce!" is the mantra of the homemade-is-best lobby. "Be creative! Experiment with different ingredients!

"After all, there's no right way or wrong way to make cranberry sauce - only the way you prefer!"

To which I would say: Ex-cuse me.

No right way and wrong way to make cranberry sauce?

Are you serious?

Is there a right way to make a suspension bridge that ferries hundreds of thousands of commuters over a great body of water every day?

Is there a wrong way to walk in a dangerous neighborhood - head down, lost in thought, oblivious to your surroundings - so you're an easy target for someone to walk up, jab a gun in your ribs and demand your wallet?

No, let's not hear any more of that right-way-or-wrong-way nonsense.

Cranberry sauce made by the great Ocean Spray company - the Mercedes Benz of canned cranberry sauce, it says here - lists the following ingredients on the label: cranberries, water, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, enough to leave you and your guests twitching uncontrollably for hours.

OK, that's not true. But some scientists do say high-fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently by the body, and could contribute to weight grain.

Big deal.

Isn't an extra 20 pounds and a spare tire of unsightly flab a small price to pay for such a tasty dish at Thanksgiving?

The point is, we've fooled around enough with so many aspects of the Thanksgiving meal, haven't we?

We fool with the turkey: Grilling it, deep-frying it, braising it, barbecuing it, covering it in a fruit glaze or marinating it in spiced apple cider brine.

(This is without even mentioning that disturbing mutant strain known as turducken, a chicken stuffed in a duck, which is stuffed in a turkey.

(What's the point of this, anyway? To see how many different kinds of fowl you can stuff in your big, fat face at one sitting?)

We fool with the side dishes, too, putting our own Rachael Ray-ish or Bobby Flay-ish imprimatur on the stuffing, mashed potatoes, baked acorn squash, green bean casserole and the like.

But common decency says some dishes should be left alone.

Many of us feel cranberry sauce is one of them.

Please. We're asking you nicely.

Read recent columns by Kevin Cowherd at

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