Next to the Christmas turkey, this unassuming red condiment keeps the holiday spirit alive on the dinner table. But have you ever stopped to wonder why we do so?
It would certainly feel as though something was amiss from your festive meals if the menu did not highlight turkey in some way. On the flip side, the sticky, red cranberry sauce served alongside the prized bird may have gone unnoticed, or you could have pondered if the tradition was translated wrongly, and that the tart sauce should have been used in a dessert instead. Whatever your sentiments, we believe that its origins are worth discovering.
GIVING THANKS FOR NATIVE PRODUCE
The pairing of turkey and cranberry sauce originated from the American Thanksgiving tradition, and the two ingredients were chosen as they were native to the land and hence easily obtained, back in the day before mass cargo shipping allowed for freshly picked produce to be flown from a corner of the globe to another within a day.
Wild turkeys were commonly hunted by colonists in the 1600s, and it became the meat of choice once Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863. Pragmatically, unlike other poultry, the size of turkeys made it so that the whole family was stuffed after the meal, and since it was less common in the market, it was deemed appropriate for occasions.
Grown naturally in the northeastern region of the United States, cranberries could be traced back to the indigenous people who gathered the berries to be used as clothing dye, medicine and in cooking, with reports showing that people used to “boil the berries with sugar for a sauce to eat with their meat”. And once cranberry sauce was mentioned in pop culture, another practise that has withstood the test of time, it quickly gained prominence.
When Amelia Simmons released American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook, in 1796, she made the recommendation that roast turkey should be presented together with cranberry sauce, and kitchens all across the nation took her advice to heart. It was a suggestion that made sense, though, as cranberries have a tart sweetness to them that provided a lot more taste to the objectively drier and salty white meat.
At this juncture, given the significance of turkey and cranberry to the American-influenced holiday, it could be puzzling as to why we have adopted this combination for our local Christmases. But the turkey became a holiday delicacy when Ebenezer Scrooge, the fictional villain in Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, gifted the bird for the titular celebration which was symbolic of his character’s redemption. And the rest, as they say is history.
And we can all sink our teeth into this homely American feast at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar’s Christmas menu. The carved oven roasted turkey breast dish features the sides it is traditionally eaten with, such as butternut stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, creamed corn, green beans sautéed with butter and almonds and of course, cranberry sauce. A Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration in a Southern, American, home is something you might never be able to check off your travel bucket list for the time being, but a meal at the restaurant will certainly come close.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar is located at #B1-07, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018972.
Whether or not the newfound knowledge from the story behind cranberry sauce has made you more excited about consuming it, we are certain that you have come across countless menus and articles promoting the duo in their conventional form. Which brings us to our compendium of places where the sauce, or the fruit itself, have been utilised in more novel adaptations.
1. ROASTED TURKEY BREAST SANDWICH
An ode to the 1950’s, Broadway American Diner’s retro décor will be quick to induce the nostalgia of the good old days. Leveraging on the theme of simplicity, the festive menu focuses on everyday items dressed up with seasonal ingredients. For instance, the egg mayonnaise sandwich is housed in a buttered brioche bun, and is decked out for the holidays with roasted turkey breast and cranberry sauce. Oddly enough, the salty and sweet flavours blend well together and the tartness from the cranberry helps tremendously in balancing out the creaminess from the egg mayonnaise.
For more information, visit kempinski.com.
2. CRANBERRY STICKY BONES
Indulgent and maybe a little messy, Morganfield’s specials will bring a slab of Southern American spices and hospitality to your convivial gatherings at home. Their famous ribs are first slow cooked for tenderness, then completed on the grill for a smoked finish. With the addition of cranberry sauce, the Cranberry Sticky Bones are juicy, sweet and tangy, functioning well as an alternative to the milder profiled turkey.
For more information, visit morganfields.com.sg.
Cranberries are not only prevalent in America, but have also found its way into the cultural foods of Europe. From the region of Alsace along the Rhine, the Kouglof is a brioche-based cake with cranberries, dubbed the king of patisseries in its hometown. Kouglof means “turban” in Alsatian, and the folklore behind it is that one of the Three Wise Men from Bethlehem forgot his turban when leaving the nativity, and the headgear was brought back to Strasbourg, France, by a crusader. A local patissier saw it, and decidedly used it as a baking tin for the cake. And The Providore has taken it upon themselves to recreate this confection, and their version is finished with pistachios, dried cranberries, almonds and a white chocolate glaze.
For more information, visit theprovidore.com.
4. CRANBERRY GIN
While America has its naturally grown cranberries, Singapore on the other hand has, or rather, used to have, native orchids, tigers and tiger orchids, especially in the Tanglin area. Our flora and fauna may be one for the history books, but homegrown gin distillery Tanglin Gin has chosen to incorporate the national flower into their libation. For an ounce of merriness, organic cranberries are infused with their signature gin for about a week to impart natural sweetness and the distinctive red hue. A unique detail about the bottle’s wrapper is that it was designed to be suitable for multiple celebrations. The Yuletide season is represented by the cranberry and the hanging ornament encircling it symbolises the Lunar New Year, making an investment into this bottle a worthwhile one!
For more information, visit tanglin-gin.com.