Jellied Cranberry Sauce and The Great Depression

By Leigh Walkup

Jellied Cranberry Sauce and The Great Depression

My sweet southern grandmother was extremely traditional when it came to her Thanksgiving meal. She was a very adventurous cook, but when it came to the Holidays, it was all about the traditions.  Every year, we had the same dishes as the year before. Southerners are known for tradition, and my grandmother was definitely a stickler about her traditions. The turkey would be served on the same platter every year, just as we used the same napkin rings and the same plates. We each sat in the same chairs as we had year after year.  I have to admit, I do love a good tradition!  

Every Thanksgiving, she made the entire meal herself, including the cranberry sauce. She bought and boiled real cranberries while adding tons and tons of sugar. They were great and always looked fabulous on the table in the crystal dish she served them in. However, I’ve always been very partial to the jellied cranberry sauce in a can. Much to my grandmother’s disdain, I just loved it.  I want it to fall out of the can in one piece. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I just really like a good slice of cranberry sauce. Yes, a slice. I don’t need a serving spoon, thank you. I need a knife so I can cut it into slices and then serve it accordingly. 

I remember a particular Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house, elbow-deep in her pantry, going through 500 cans of food. I can hear the conversation now: “Grandmother, do you not have any jellied cranberry sauce in here?” Her answer would come with her deep southern drawl, “Child! Haaave you completely laawst your mind? Nooooo, there is no “jeeeelied” cranberry sauce in this house.”

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. I remember asking her about those times. She told me that they grew all their own food and slaughtered their own meat, so her family was lucky to be able to sustain themselves. She did go on to say that hardships were plentiful, and she certainly saw a lot of struggle through that time period. She would have been a teenager/young adult during that era; however, what she did see and learned during those times clearly stuck with her for the remainder of her life. She could really make a penny last, and she never wasted anything. I do mean ANYTHING.  She was never a big fan of throwing anything away. Basically, she believed we could find a use for everything, and even if we couldn’t at the moment, the reason would present itself at a later date. Never fear; there would come a time when we needed 700 rusty nails.   Every time I went to throw away a bread tie, “Oh my, we must keep that. Why on earth would you throw it away?!” Of course, you never know when you may need 500 bread ties or 300 Ziplock bags. Can’t ever be too careful, right?  

When my grandmother passed away, and I went through her house to pack it up, I came across things that never found a “job.” I’m the first to report that I never did find a use for those rusty nails or old bread ties. The deep freeze had frozen food with a freezer tape date on it that was older than me.  I think back on her life and realize that things had value. Things meant something, and maybe living through an era of “not having enough” made her see that it could possibly happen again. She believed that things had a purpose and we were not ever to be wasteful. She taught us that we had plenty and always to give back. She believed in doing for yourself and lending a helping hand. She also loved cooking for her family, especially on Thanksgiving. She knew all she would ever need would be in her deep freeze or her pantry. It held everything.

However, the one thing she thought she would never need, even if times got tough again, was jellied cranberry sauce. There was never a single can in that big ole southern house. Ever!

So this Thanksgiving, to all those Jellied Cranberry Sauce lovers…may your pantry be full of it, and may your table be graced with blessings and gratitude. 

Our Favorite Recipes with Jellied Cranberry Sauce:

Here is our favorite non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

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