Cranberry Conserve and Compote

Make ahead, make ahead, make ahead.

This is the mantra of a Thanksgiving dinner that you, the cook, can actually sit down and enjoy. I’ve learned this lesson after years of waking up at 5 am on Thanksgiving Day (or fill in the blank on the holiday) revving up the ovens and stove, and cooking myself into a pajama-stained frenzy until 30 minutes before guests arrive. After tasting, tweaking and smelling food all day, I’m left with little energy to entertain, and even less of an appetite. I’m the person who actually lost 8 pounds while I was in a 9-month professional culinary program.

So here it is a good 10 days before the big day and I’m plotting and planning my “make ahead” schedule. I start with the items that can last the longest in the fridge and work forward to things, like the turkey, that have to be done on the day.

Cranberry sauce is the quintessential Thanksgiving condiment, and because it’s basically a preserve/compote/chutney/jam (sugar being the preservative in this case) it will store well in the fridge for at least two weeks, if not longer. So it is the perfect “make ahead” item.

I like to have more than one on the table to satisfy the two typical palattes of my guests: traditional (kids, older relatives, curmudgeons) and foodies (i.e., my chef son and his chef girlfriend, me). There is not much else to say about cranberry sauce except this: it is so easy to make…and so easy to make special and impressive for your guests with added fruits and flavors…don’t even think about using the canned stuff. Pahleese! You have gone to all the trouble to brine and bathe and baste the perfect bird, why let your guests slather some corn-syrupy gelatinous mess all over it? Make these instead, and whether you actually know the difference between a conserve and a compote (I can’t figure it out), you’ll never call it cranberry “sauce” again.

Jellied Cranberry-Apple Conserve
adapted from Food & Wine


12-15 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
1 large Fuji apple, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (any apple will do fine, but stick with a red one to balance tartness of cranberries)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar Preparation

Spray an 8×4 inch loaf pan, or molding vessel of your choice with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries with the diced apple, sugars and water. Bring to a boil and cook over moderately high hear, stirring frequently until the cranberries are completely broken down and the sauce is very thick, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then scrap the cranberry mixture into the prepared pan and refridgerate until chilled, about 3 hours. If serving right away, invert the jelly onto a serving plate and garnish with fresh cranberries and rosemary sprigs. Slice with a serrated knife to serve. If preparing ahead, just wrap the jelly in the pan, tightly with plastic wrap. Will keep in fridge for up to two weeks.

Cranberry & Dried Fruit Compote
adapted from Food & Wine


12-15 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried figs
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over moderately high heat until the cranberries burst, about 7 minutes. Scrape the cranberry mixture into a bowl and refridgerate until chilled, about 3 hours. Can be kept in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Serve chilled or warmed.

4 responses to “Cranberry Conserve and Compote”

  1. sandra shipley says:

    Thanks so much for the various recipes. I start a new job tomorrow and realize I’d better take your advice to cook ahead all that I can for the Thanksgiving feast. Especially as I’m cooking for both meat eaters and vegetarians. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.
    I so wanted to take part in your Sunday suppers but didn’t know what my rehearsal/performance schedule would be with this new production.Do hope you are having fun and that they are proving a success.
    I liked your pear rosemary cake recipe. You may have made this before, but I had some very ripe comice pears and decided to match them in a pie with almonds. I made a pate brise, lined the pie plate with about 4inches overhang of pastry, rolled out half a roll of almond paste and lined the pastry base, topped that with the pears tossed with a little flour, sugar, lemon juice and zest, sprinkled sliced toasted almonds on top ,and then flipped the overhang of pastry back to partly cover the filling, “country style” Brushed with milk, sprinkled with sugar and baked in a hot oven about 45 minutes. It is now a current favorite pie and may well be on the Thanksgiving dessert table this year.
    Thanks again for all your hard work and creativity on this site. I really enjoy it.
    Best wishes,

    • says:

      Thanks for that almond/pear pie recipe. I’m going to try it, since I seem addicted to almonds lately. I’m throwing sliced almonds on everything. Thanks for reading. I’ve been a little sporadic with posts due to moving, etc., but am now on track to do one to two a week. Keep “stirring things up” and hope to see you in one of my classes soon. Good luck with the new show! What are you doing? I’m posting a vegetarian side for Thanksgiving this week…stay posted. Are you looking for a vegan dish? Or can it contain dairy? Rachel

  2. ShawnTina says:

    My girlfriend invited me to be a part of Rachel’s Culinary 101 session. I had such a great time! Rachel was so patient with my many, many questions. I was really amazed at how a little extra time of prepping pays off with much more satisfying results in regard to taste and nutrition benefits. The recipes had simple ingredients, there’s no need to go to specialty stores for rare ingredients that would stay in your cupboard forever. Rachel , thanks for showing me a healthier take on greens and corn bread. I promise; no more Jiffy mix!

    • says:

      Shawntina! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Culinary 101! My pleasure! And thanks for the feedback. I love it when I hear our fun afternoon inspired a lasting “Food Fix”. Keep cooking!

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