Three Fresh Cranberry Recipes for the Holidays

by Min Merrell

Fresh cranberry recipes–roasted, in a big salad, or a real gelatin.

Picture this: your holiday dining room table beautifully set for the annual family gathering with candles and a few fall pine cones scattered about. Extra chairs squeezed together so everyone has a place. Out comes the heaping platters of carefully roasted birds and family-honored dressings and all the side dishes. After such an investment, is a bowl of canned cranberry jelly worthy of your table?

Not a chance. Not with these three spectacular fresh cranberry recipes on hand–Roasted Cranberries, Fresh Cranberry Fruit Salad and Real Cranberry Gelatin. Fresh cranberries are a holiday must-have and all start with a bag of cranberries so keep at least on hand. All three of our cranberry dishes are a great match for all your family favorite roasted meats–turkey, duck, pork, or beef. Give them a try this year and we bet they’ll make it to the table next year, too. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


roasted cranberries

You’ll be astounded by roasted cranberries. Because we’re not boiling the fresh berries in liquid, the roasted berries will be luscious and thick, more like a relish or chutney than a salad.

We’ve got two styles to add to your arsenal, both starting with a bag of cranberries and a cup of sugar. One combines the berries with apple, orange, and pecans. The other is a savory/spicy version flavored with onion and fresh jalapeño peppers. You’ll love them both. The cranberries can handle the peppers and the spicy-sweet combo flavor is spectacular.

And, if you just want plain roasted cranberries to add to other recipes, roast them with the 2 tablespoons of oil and the one cup of sugar. They are spectacular just like that!

Even better, as a cocktail appetizer, roasted cranberries will leave behind that pepper jelly served on a block of cream cheese. Serve our Roasted Cranberries on the holiday cheese platter. Pair them with nutty manchego, creamy goat cheese, sharp cheddar, and smoked gouda.

The intense, concentrated cranberry flavors that come from hot oven roasting are exceptional. As fantastic as a relish on a cheese tray as on a steaming bowl of oatmeal.


1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries

1 medium Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, and diced

Zest from one orange

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional


Heat the oven to 400° F. Combine the cranberries, apple, and zest in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Toss with the oil and sugar. Add a pinch of salt. Roast about 30 minutes or until the cranberries are soft and the juices are thickened. If adding the pecans, toss them over the casserole after 20 minutes of roasting. Makes 8 servings.

For the spicy jalapeño variation: omit the apple, orange zest and pecans. Add one small chopped onion and chopped fresh jalapeño peppers, to taste, to the cranberries before roasting. Roast as directed above.


Cranberry Fruit Salad

A big bowl of fresh cranberry fruit salad is a great dish to have handy in the fridge during the holidays and all winter long. Isn’t sweet Elsa cute!

When you get home cook the berries right away. This gets the cranberry sauce ready to go when you’ve firmed up plans for relishes, conserves, salads, and sauces. It just takes a few ingredients stirred into cooked cranberries and you’re off. Cranberries are great fun to play with because they take so well to both sweet and savory ingredients.

Try this strategy for getting the most out of cranberries this season. First, cook the cranberries just like it says on the bag with sugar and water (one cup of each). Simmer them just until they pop so the shape of the fruit is still visible. Put them in a covered container and chill. Now start dreaming, or surfing, or reading from your kitchen library for those who still do in today’s world.

One of our favorite Cheater Chef cranberry dishes puts the cranberry sauce into a gorgeous ruby-tinged fresh fruit salad loaded with pineapple, oranges, pears, apples, and/or grapes. Add spices like cinnamon and ginger.

Cranberries pretty much let you use whatever you have around, but here are a few ideas to consider.

Waldorf Cranberry Salad—Add chopped apple, sliced celery, and toasted walnuts or pecans.

Indian Chutney—Add a splash of vinegar, chopped onion, fresh jalapeño pepper, raisins, grated fresh ginger, and cardamom. Add fresh apples to this too, if you like.

Dried Fruits—Dried figs, raisins, and even prunes work well.

Sophisticated Single Fruit—Spoon the cranberry sauce over a simple platter of sliced oranges or green apples.

Susan Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish—Make your own version of the NPR host’s famous recipe by stirring in a spoonful of prepared horseradish, chopped onion, and sour cream.

Canned Fruits—Canned pears, cherries, mandarin orange segments, and apricot halves are delicious with cranberries.

Fruit Fluff—Add chopped apples, grapes, toasted pecans, and miniature marshmallows. Fold in one cup of cream, whipped. Some folks call this a salad. You may call it dessert.

Remember, use what you have! These fruits are just suggestions. Start cutting things up and toss them in the bowl.


1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 crisp apples, cored and diced

2 firm ripe pears, cored and diced

2 navel oranges, peeled and cut into chunks

1 fresh pineapple, skin cut off, cored, and diced

1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, optional


Combine the cranberries, water, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer until the berries begin to pop. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Transfer to a container with a lid. Chill. Combine the chilled sauce with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Chill until serving. Makes at least 12 servings.


You might call this an Alice Waters-style real cranberry gelatin. Ultra pure and simple, this dish celebrates the true essence of the fruit. No extraneous ingredients, no fake fruit Jell-O, the recipe speaks for itself. Chances are good that your canned cranberry (with ridges) fans will like it.

A packet of gelatin will firm up two cups of liquid. This recipe pushes it to two and a half because the cranberries naturally thicken in the sauce and we wanted the gelatin to have a looser, melt-in-your-mouth, gelee consistency. Essentially, all you’re doing is gelling those fresh cranberries that you were going to cook on the stove for relish. Even better, you won’t be unmolding this one.

Serve real cranberry gelatin spooned into a beautiful bowl or scattered free-form and  jewel-like over fresh orange slices. It’s very simple, just like Alice Waters would serve it.


1 packet granulated gelatin

1 1/2 cups water

1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup cranberry juice cocktail or orange juice


Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 of the water in a 1 1/2 quart bowl or casserole dish. Allow it to soften while you cook the cranberries. Combine the cranberries, the remaining 1 cup of water, and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer until the berries pop about 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the cranberries over the softened gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved about one minute. Add the juice. Pour into a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or overnight. Enjoy plain or spooned over fresh orange chunks. Makes about 8 servings.

But wait, there’s more! These recipes will come in handy during the holidays:

Roasting Turkey Halves cook quicker than whole and you can fit more turkey in the oven.

Big Batch of Gravy because you can never have enough gravy.

White Sauce Ratio to Remember is the beginning of about a million vegetable casseroles.

Southern Cornbread Dressing is our go-to recipe in Nashville.

French Onion Mac and Cheese is a fun variation of the interesting holiday menu mac and cheese tradition.

Collard Cornbread Pudding works wonders with turkey, pork roast or a holiday beef tenderloin when dressing isn’t on the menu.

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