Thanks to the angel of sacred, family recipes, I was extraordinarily thankful this Thanksgiving. Margaret’s recent budding interest in culinary arts expedited a rite of passage I hadn’t thought was on the horizon for another year or two. I am so pleased to announce that Margaret is now officially a member of an exclusive and small group of relatives called “Grandma Lucy’s Cranberry Sauce Club.”
If you’re thinking to yourself, “what’s so exciting about cranberry sauce?” you have obviously never tasted my late grandma Lucy’s. In other words, you’ve been living a life of Thanksgiving mediocracy. Seriously, you have. Because I have never met anyone who has tasted Grandma Lucy’s cranberry sauce without falling in taste-bud love.
For those of you who never met Grandma Lucy, I should point out that she was a very private person who had little patience for people (like me) who didn’t pick things up quickly. In fact, the saying “I can explain it to you, I just can’t understand it for you” sums her attitude up well. She was a doer, not a teacher.
Consequently, let’s just say the “secrets in the sauce” that made her cranberry sauce so delicious were not “well documented.” What we do have of her handwritten recipe is unclear, as the green ink she used to pen the ingredients smudged. The first time my mom and I tried to make sense of it was comical. Do we cook the cranberries for 3 minutes and then add sugar and then cook for another 20 or do we cook the cranberries for 3 minutes and add sugar during that time and then cook for 17 minutes totaling 20 altogether? Like the characters in the musical Legally Blonde when they ponder if Enrique Salvatore is gay or European, we were anything but sure. And because I never paid attention to her making her cranberry sauce – despite the fact that she made it for 25 years straight from the time she moved to California to live with us until she passed – I’m ashamed to admit that the recipe almost died with her.
My mom attempted to make it the first Thanksgiving after Grandma Lucy had died. She, like me, had never paid any attention. It was a flop. Literally, it drooped when it came out. Distraught, and understandably still grieving the death of her “mummy” as she called her mom, my mom gave up and passed – no, more like threw – the torch at me. Good thing I’m always up for a challenge.
It took me several attempts to get it right. The first time I tried it the sauce came out runny. The second time I overcooked it. The third time it almost came out but not exactly the way it did when Grandma Lucy made it. I became strangely obsessed with why it wasn’t working. I prayed that Grandma Lucy would guide me like Remy controlled Linguini in Ratatouille. It never happened. Or at least I didn’t think it did at the time.
The next year I caught my big break. It struck me that the type of saucepan I was using to cook the cranberries might have an impact on the consistency of the sauce. So I made some changes and shazam! It came out just like Great Grandma Lucy made it!
This year, Margaret asked if she could make it. Herself. Because she is a highly observant, detail-oriented person, the first thing she requested was for me to walk her through the process, making note of the prep and materials to use. And then, she let me guide her as she made the cranberry sauce.
She got a little silly in the process (it does take a while).
Two days ago, on Thanksgiving day, my mom shared with me that the recipe actually originated with my Grandma Lucy’s friend Margaret – who was like my mom’s second mother. Margaret was German and it was a family recipe. So it’s literally been passed down now from Margaret to Margaret. Pretty cool.
Of course, for all I know, everyone in Germany knows Grandma Lucy’s recipe. Which means “Grandma Lucy’s Cranberry Sauce club” isn’t so small or exclusive – and isn’t a group of our relatives.
That’s OK though – I’m pretty sure the Germans aren’t making it for Thanksgiving.