Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Yesterday, we learned how easy it is to make risotto.
My pantry dilemma is a can of cranberry sauce. The canned, jellied, not even a little bit like homemade kind. I know. Here is the life cycle of a cranberry sauce can in my house: every year at Thanksgiving both my husband and I remember that we like canned cranberry sauce, and I buy two cans, because it is inevitably on sale, and who can resist that kind of bargain? And we happily eat one can, and then remember that we like about one slice of cranberry sauce each, and then we're done for the year. The spare can sits in the cupboard, lonely and forgotten, until around June or July when I clean out the pantry and get rid of it because surely I won't ever want cranberry sauce again, right? And then November comes around and I buy more cranberry sauce [insert The Lion King music here]. Only this year, well, *gestures vaguely at all of this* and that one can of sauce is sitting there in the pantry. I think it's staring at me. I'd like to use it before it attacks. But I don't want to just eat it as-is so... help?
Anne also followed with a beautifully thorough inventory of supplies, which include lots of herbs and spices, fresh rosemary, eggs, and a hearty stock of booze (gin, bourbon, some mediocre vodka, grand marnier, tequila; and most mixers - tonic, ginger beer, club soda, various other sodas).
This is a dilemma I’ve literally never faced in my own personal life. Every family holiday, my sisters and I make cranberry sauce from scratch and it’s delicious and lovely… but we also buy a can of cranberry sauce and then fight each other tooth and nail over who gets the last gelatinous slice. I’m not saying we draw blood over canned cranberry sauce, but I’m also not not saying it. I literally can’t imagine having leftovers. We love that weird fruit cylinder so fucking much.
Because of that, this request almost completely stumped me. The idea of transforming or concealing the cranberry sauce felt to me like trying to give Gilda from the movie Gilda a makeover — what’s to improve? But then a very smart person I know suggested a way to highlight the cranberry instead, and just like that, we’re in business. Crack open a can of cranberry sauce and let’s get
Step One: Cranberry Syrup. Canned cranberry sauce is great for this because the ingredients are usually just cranberries and some kind of sugar. Cranberries themselves naturally contain enough pectin that you don’t need to add gelatin to get a jellied preserve going. To make the syrup, just glorp that cranberry sauce into a saucepot with an equal amount of warm water. Heat over low, stirring constantly, until you’ve got a gentle simmer going. Don’t let it boil! Sugars transform at high temperatures, and you’re just trying to get the consistency right here. Keep stirring as it reduces, and when it’s a thin syrup, take it off the heat.
That’s it. Now you have cranberry syrup. Make some cocktails! Here are some that I would try out (all of these are experimental, I’m no cocktail expert). I’m omitting garnishes on the assumption that none are available, but if you have citrus peels, cherries, frozen fruit, fuckin’ big fancy ice cubes, now’s the time to use them:
- Clean your fresh rosemary well, then chop it up and give it a 48-hour soak in a tightly-sealed jar of that medium-quality vodka. Strain the rosemary out and hey presto! Rosemary vodka! Mix 1:1:1 with cranberry syrup and soda and serve with a rock for a sparkling, savory take on a Cape Cod.
- Combine 1:2:2 cranberry syrup, grand marnier, and vodka for a limeless Cosmopolitan. Throw those same proportions but scaled-up in a blender with some ice for a pretty fab boozy, slushy dessert.
- Let’s fuck around and find out how this tastes: 2.5oz bourbon, a slug of cranberry syrup, a splash of bitters if you’ve got ‘em, a grind of nutmeg. Serve neat or with a rock for a tart nod to a Bourbon Old Fashioned.
- Ginger beer, cranberry, and gin are already a natural match — Mix them in a 3:1:1 ratio, put on a fancy hat, and get twisted.
- Muddle some of that rosemary and then shake with tequila and grand marnier. Strain into a coupe glass and pour in cranberry syrup until you like the look of things. This might be a good moment to experiment with adding some heat to your cocktails — feel free to infuse that tequila with chili or pepper ahead of time.
- Combine 2oz gin, 1.75oz cranberry syrup, some ice, and an egg white. Shake hard — like super super hard. Strain it into a highball glass full of rocks, then top with soda water. Look at you! You made a cranberry gin fizz!
As the ever-brilliant DongWon Song reminded me, this syrup would also be great in any mocktail. Combine it with ginger beer or soda water for a great spritzer. When you’re at the boiling stage, throw in a sachet with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves for a more complex wintery flavor (or, if you’re me, just throw in a bag of Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea). Alternatively, at the boiling stage, throw in some of that fresh rosemary for an herbal, savory syrup that will be perfect with tonic water. Serve over ice and consider yourself refreshed.