Grappa Cranberry Sauce

I am not a Thanksgiving purist by any stretch of the imagination, but when you’re making a turkey dinner there must be at least two (2) additional items on the table:

1.  Turkey gravy

2.  Cranberry sauce

You know it’s true.  So let’s talk about the cranberry sauce, because my affection for cranberry sauce (rivaled only by my passion for stuffing) is almost a bit of an embarrassment.  I eat it with my turkey.  I mash it up on the side of my potatoes.  I enjoy ‘accidental’ cranberry corn (that’s no accident) and I furtively eat it off the serving spoon when people think that I’m diligently cleaning dishes up off the table and I’m actually hiding in there and scarfing back more food.  Such are the joys of the holidays.  

I won’t lie to you and say that I refuse to eat processed cranberry sauce, because it could be that one day in the far distant past (last year) I found an antiquated can on cranberry sauce that my room-mate had left in the back of the pantry and I ate it.  For dinner.  Because I’m actually half-woman and half-raccoon.  But the fact is that canned cranberries have no place on the Thanksgiving table.  I mean that. Truesies. Homemade cranberry sauce is painless and far superior to anything that shlupfs its way out of a can in one unified mass.  

More to the point, I’ve been ogling this recipe for over a year and that’s actually why I made a Greek inspired Thanksgiving dinner in the first place, because I wanted Grappa flavored cranberries.  The thing is, although that looks delightfully aesthetic, I would feel a bit cheated if my cranberry sauce was molded.  I don’t want a sliceable cranberry gelee, I want SAUCE!!  And straining it?  STRAINING IT?!  That’s just not fair. There are no tart cranberries to pop in your mouth!  There’s no texture, no chew!  Bah, I say!!  So I stole the basic elements of their recipe (ie, use a lot of grappa) and made it my own.

Have you ever been to a Grappa tasting?  Or, more importantly (and less yuppie), have you ever just tasted Grappa?  It’s… bold.  And harsh.  The best Grappas that I’ve had occasion to drink have still been hair-raisers where after a few shots your “OPA!” turns into, “O-PArdon me it’s just that I have to get into the bathroom QUICKLY and I’llbebackinjustaminu -”  

Splitting the grappa up into two doses (one to mellow out with the cranberries and the other to swing your pendulum back at the end) really makes a difference.  If you added it all at the initiation you would lose a lot of the distinct grappa-ness.  But… if you added it all at the end then you would have to plan on sitting a bit further back and not breathing on the lit candles.  

Oh, and we don’t have kids.  I should mention that.  This might not be the most family friendly recipe for cranberry sauce out there.  Mind you, maybe a little Grappa might calm the wild ones down and make it an enjoyable holiday for all.  No?  That’s a horrible idea?  You’re calling Children’s Aid just on principle?  Don’t worry guys, I’m still on the pill.

One final note:  I don’t like my cranberry sauce to be too runny or sweet.  I also like to see some whole berries intact.  That’s just how I am.  If you like a sweeter sauce, use more sugar!  If you like a thinner sauce, use more water!  That’s just the way it goes.

Grappa Cranberry Sauce


  • 2 bags (24 oz/680g) fresh or frozen unsweetened cranberries
  • 1 orange (1 tbsp zest, juice of whole)
  • 1 cup good quality Grappa (divided)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Water, as needed
I’m telling you, cranberry sauce is so easy that I feel like a slattern putting up this recipe.  However, since laziness is what I do best, here goes:  Empty both bags of cranberries into a pot that is about medium size.  Zest 1/2 of a large navel orange, which is about 1 tbsp of orange zest.
Squeeze the poor half naked orange into a glass measurer which can hold at least 2 cups.  There should be between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of juice. Pour in 3/4 cup of Grappa, and top the rest up with regular old water until you have a total of 1.5 cups.  Pour that into the cranberries.
Set the pot on medium-low heat and….that’s pretty much it.  Give it a stir periodically, when you remember, to make sure that nothing burns or sticks to the bottom.  Even on medium-low heat it will eventually start to boil and bubble like cranberry trouble (eye of turkey, ‘to of mash?) so let it boil away and reduce until it starts to thicken up to the consistency that you would like it to be on the table.
Add the last 1/4 cup of Grappa, give it a stir, and take it off the heat to cool.  Now don’t panic at these directions, in case you’re thinking, “But I just got it to the right consistency and NOW you want me to THIN IT?!”  I’m not an awful person, I swear.  Remember that as it cools it will start to firm up.  Think of jam – it starts as a solid but as soon as you melt it you have some scalding hot runny goo on your hands.  Then, when it cools, you have a nice semi-thick jam again.  The same applies here.  
You can serve it cool or at room temperature, whatever you prefer!  I like it at room temp, but maybe that’s just me…
Oh, cranberry sauce in all of it’s jewel toned glory.  How can you not be just a little bit in love?
Alright, one more superfluous berry shot and I’ll call it a day.
Also, I promise not to do another Thanksgiving post for at LEAST a couple of days.
  • noble pig

    I love the grappa addition, how clever! I must try it!

  • Kristie

    One time I tried grappa and it burned the ever-loving shit out of my mouth. Cranberries might have just enough bounce to their ounce to fight back. I’ll give it a shot. That is, if we have grappa in Texas. Probably “Lone Star” brand or some other baloney.

  • Tina

    Noble Pig – I can’t take any credit for the idea, that was all Gourmet magazine.

    Kristie – yes, it can be a bit…..harsh……to say the least. I’ll pansy around in the sweet liquors department and buy my Marie Brizzards, but when it comes to hard liquor I’m always willing to splurge just a bit and buy something of premium quality because you can really, REALLY taste a difference. Good vodka to cheap vodka is the difference between feeling like James Bond and choking on paint thinner. The same goes for Grappa – the cheap stuff I cannot abide, it’s like drinking peroxide. And feels roughly the same when it comes back up…….which it usually does….

  • Lo!

    Our standard cranberry sauce uses a bottle of Zinfandel… but I could be seriously tempted by the grappa. I’ll have to seriously consider this.

  • Mike

    It’s well worth looking at. You might be scared when you first crack out the Grappa, but it blends incredibly well with strong flavor of cranberries.

    Just don’t tell any of your more Puritanical dinner guests how you made it, and you’re tickety-boo.

  • Tina

    A bottle of zinfandel, eh? I’m coming to YOUR HOUSE for Thanksgiving!!!!!

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