A Thanksgiving confession: up until a few years ago, I’d only experienced tinned cranberry sauce—and loved it because I knew no other. Yes, the kind that plops gelatinously out onto your plate and retains the moulded ridges of the can it sat in for an indeterminable amount of time. A huge handful of American kids grow up associating cranberries with the jellied magenta slices that are served next to their turkey once a year on Thanksgiving. It’s a shame, because fresh cranberries are such bright little baubles of festive goodness!
It’s a bittersweet holiday season, because although I’m back in a country that properly celebrates Thanksgiving, I’m missing out on the magical Christmas markets of which Europe is chock-full—and their steaming street stalls of mulled wine. Red wine steeped in various spices and fruits is best experienced with wind-nipped cheeks warmed by the rising steam and icy hands wrapped around a piping hot mug. It becomes increasingly ubiquitous around Christmastime, but I’ve been feeling ready for a ladle-full since putting on a Christmas playlist the day after Halloween. No shame.
It was popular in Victorian England and takes on all different names and spice variations across Europe, but perhaps the most iconic versions are Scandinavian (glögg/gløgg) and German (glühwein). The latter translates roughly to “glow-wine”, which references the hot irons that were once part of the mulling process. Depending on the region and personal taste, the brew can be adjusted to spicier, sweeter, fruitier, etc.; experiment by adding vanilla pods, dried fruits, star anise, ginger, or peppercorn.
I could honestly just eat a whole bowl of this sauce, but to be civil I made a mini loaf of pumpkin cornbread to give off the false impression that I’m not the barbarian I really am. The tartness and spiced flavour of this cranberry sauce lends a nice twist to overtly sweet or savoury cornbreads that are more typically served at the Thanksgiving table.
Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce
- 12oz fresh cranberries, rinsed
- 1 ½ cup dry red wine
- ~½ cup honey / maple syrup (to taste)
- 1 orange, peel and juice separated
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 T cloves, whole
- 1 T allspice, whole
Gather the whole spices and orange peel together in cheese cloth—or you can spoon them out later.
Bring the wine, juice from the orange, and the spice bundle to a boil in a pot.
Remove any loose spices before adding the rinsed cranberries, lowering the heat to a simmer and stirring frequently until the berries are popped and the sauce begins to thicken.
Stir in honey, agave, or maple syrup gradually until the desired balance of sweet/tart is achieved. If necessary, additional ground spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc) can also be added at the end of the cooking process.
Cranberry-Swirled Pumpkin Cornbread
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 t baking powder
- ½ t cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 3 T maple syrup
- 1 eggs
- ¼ cup pumpkin puree
- 3 T neutral oil
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
Mix dry ingredients, then mix wet ingredients separately. Pour wet into dry, stirring until just combined. Pour half the batter in a miniature loaf pan (or you can double the recipe), dollop some cranberry sauce over it, and top with remaining batter.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted and comes out clean, give or take some cranberry.
Let the holiday season begin! Happiest of Thanksgivings, all.