Why We Eat Canned Cranberry Sauce

In the previous century, in the Rural South where I was reared, canned cranberry sauce was eaten at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We never had fresh cranberries. I was grown before I knew people who ate fresh cranberries.

–USDA cranberry photo

I can’t remember where I read about cranberry sauce and its significance at our holidays. Our meals were plentiful. Bounteous feasts were served on holidays. Cooking took place over a number of days prior: hams were baked, both cured and fresh pork; and special cakes and pies. Turkeys were not as popular as hens for serving with dressing, not stuffing. We grew our own corn that was taken to mill, ground into meal, and made into cornbread for dressing. We grew our own eggs, green beans, sweet potatoes, onions and Irish potatoes. My grandmother even grew the celery that went into her dressing.

So what is the significance of canned cranberry sauce? It was a sign that we not only had a feast, but we could afford to buy canned goods that did not grow in our area. Not only cranberries graced our table, but stuffed olives as well. We could grow pimento peppers, but olives were not in our orchards, nor cranberries in our swamps.

I enjoy fresh cranberries at somebody else’s table, but I always serve canned — the whole berry kind. We eat it year ’round with chicken. Mama always bought jellied cranberry sauce and served it in a little oblong glass dish that was reserved for such a special holiday treat.

Here’s a link to Ocean Spray’s tutorial for a perfect Cranberry Log (how to get jellied cranberry sauce out of the can in one piece).

— table photos are my own, taken at dinners I attended in 2005 and 2006.



  1. jeansgarden

     /  November 10, 2009

    Nell, I grew up in southeast Massachusetts, within spitting distance of Ocean Spray's cranberry bogs, but we and everyone I knew always ate canned cranberry sauce for the holidays (served much as your mother served it). One of our holiday rituals each year was going to ride a train through a Christmas light display right near Ocean Spray headquarters; and, at the end of the ride, we were given a free can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. I was well into adulthood before I discovered whole cranberries! -Jean

  2. Janet

     /  November 10, 2009

    To my kids, Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without jellied cranberry sauce. I love the dried ones. Interesting comment about being able to afford buying canned goods to supplement your home grown produce. Something we don't even think about in this day and age.

  3. Ellie Mae's Cottage

     /  November 9, 2009

    My hubby and his family will eat nothing but canned cranberry sauce. I never even had it before I met him. I always thought it was so weird since his family are native to southeast Massachusetts, which is cranberry country. I do like the canned sauce better on Cape Codder sandwiches (turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce) – YUMMY!!!

  4. Wendy

     /  November 9, 2009

    I loved this post! I also grew up on canned and jellied cranberry sauce. One year I made my own with fresh cranberries, and I just was not satisfied. Maybe I'd do it again on a typical weeknight, but NOT on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for me and my family MUST include the jellied crap that slurps out of a can!

  5. ryan

     /  November 9, 2009

    I've always been a little weirded out by the shape of the cranberry log. But it does look wrong if you make it into some other shape.

  6. Pam's English Garden

     /  November 9, 2009

    Nell Jean, you never cease to amaze me with the variety and interest of your topics! This post is so informative for me … raised in England with no Thanksgiving celebration. I love the description of your childhood "feasts". You have put me in the holiday mood. Thanks. Pamela

  7. janie

     /  November 9, 2009

    We always had the canned cranberry sauce,and it was always the jellied cranberries. I didn't know they put the whole ones in cans for years, and I was just as happy with the jellied.

    I remember the year that Mama purchased dry goods and made each of us our own stocking to hang by the chimney. We didn't actually have a chimney, but Mama had a beautiful mantle, sans fireplace that she used as though we did have a fireplace. Anyway, that was the first year I remember that we didn't use Daddy's big old socks for stockings for Santa to fill oranges, and apples, nuts, peppermint sticks and a small gift. We were really 'uptown'!

    I still have my stocking. I cherish it.

  8. Sylvana

     /  November 9, 2009

    I always loved the canned cranberry sauce! My grandmother would make a cranberry relish with fresh cranberries (we live in Wisconsin so fresh was plentiful here), but I didn't like it as much as the canned stuff.

  9. Randy Emmitt

     /  November 9, 2009

    Neil Jean,
    We always had the canned cranberries too. To be honest about half the family ate it and the other have never touched it.

  10. Gail

     /  November 9, 2009

    I never liked canned cranberry sauce…it was too sweet. My sisters loved it and was served only on Thanksgiving. I tasted a fresh orange, nutty cranberry sauce someplace (cannot remember where!) and I have been looking for the recipe ever since! Do you still have your mother's oblong dish? gail

  11. Mary Delle

     /  November 9, 2009

    Cranberries are my favorite part of holiday meals– served any way. I like the reason your family ate the canned.

  12. Rosey Pollen

     /  November 9, 2009

    I'll take it either way. But I am like Donna and I like the bread make with the real berries. Canyou believe how many juices are made with cranberry now? THe list is endless. These table settings are really elegant. Nice!

  13. donna

     /  November 9, 2009

    A lot of cranberries are grown in Wisconsin and so I can't imagine eating canned cranberry sauce, but I like the significance of it at your table. We also eat a lot of cranberry bread and cranberry/apple desserts.

    Your table photos are lovely.

  14. azplantlady

     /  November 9, 2009

    Hello Nell Jean,

    I love that you eat canned cranberry sauce. That is the only way that I like it. It is interesting in the presence of home-grown, fresh food at the table, that there is canned cranberries. I love it!

%d bloggers like this: