This little fish-shaped dish is my family’s cranberry sauce server. It is simply the perfect size for a can of cranberry jelly. I grew up with a clear glass one that my mom still has and a few years ago, when I found this milk glass version at a thrift store for $1.50, I snatched like it was the most valuable thing in the store. To me, it was.
The only wrinkle in this tradition is the fact that I gave up commercially made cranberry sauce a few years ago. I make so many preserves that it seemed silly to continue to buy this particular one. What’s more, most of the store bought stuff is made with high fructose corn syrup, a substance I try to avoid when possible.
So this year, I decided to do something a little silly in order to satisfy my desire to slide a can-shaped tube of cranberry sauce into my little fish dish. I made a batch from scratch and molded it into the can shape using BPA-free cans. I searched out a neutral-tasting food so that the cans wouldn’t impart any additional flavor to the jelly (these cannellini beans were perfect and tasted so good in a batch of sausage and kale soup). I also made sure to find a can that had a flat bottom, so that I could use a can opener on it in the event that the jelly was hesitant to exit the can.
I made a very basic cranberry jelly. Combine 5 cups whole cranberries with 3 cups granulated white sugar, 1 cup apple cider and the juice of 1 lemon in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and cook until the cranberries burst, stirring regularly. If it begins to look too thick, add a splash more water.
Fit a food mill with its finest screen. When cranberries are finished cooking, pour them into the bowl of the food mill and work them through. You could also use a fine mesh sieve and a rubber scraper if you don’t have a food mill. Continue to mill the cranberries until all that remains in the bowl of the food mill is seeds and skins.
Set a wide mouth funnel into your well-cleaned cans and scrape the warm cranberry sauce into the can, leaving a bit of space at the top.
Cover the filled cans with foil or plastic wrap and place them the fridge to set. If you can, give them at least 12 hours of chilling for optimum molding.
Just before you’re ready to serve, gather your equipment. Can of molded cranberry sauce. Butter knife. Can opener. And the all-important fish dish.
Carefully slide the butter knife down along the side of the cranberry jelly and run it in a complete circle to loosen. Take care when you to this so you don’t end up slicing all the can ridges off the jelly. They are part of the joy. Once the sauce has been loosened, invert the can into your dish and give it a little wiggle.
Sometimes the jelly begins to slide out immediately. If it remains stuck, use the can opener to crack the vacuum by beginning to take the bottom off the can. I’ve found that you don’t have to remove it all the way, even just a little bit of air in there helps move things along. Gently slide the cranberry sauce out onto your plate.
Serve with pride, knowing that you’ve managed to maintain a family tradition while sticking to your culinary guns. And, should you be curious, this cranberry jelly recipe is also appropriate for funneling into glass jars and processing in a boiling water bath canning. Ten minutes for pints and half pints will more than do.