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Cranberry Sauce

People often ask me what Parisians do for Thanksgiving. And while many French holidays are celebrated in America, Thanksgiving is one that doesn’t cross the Atlantic.

I’ve done a Thanksgiving dinner for friends and it takes quite a bit of time to find and assemble all the ingredients. And although a few stores that cater to American expats stock everything, it’s more fun to make fresh pumpkin puree for pies, break up a pain au levain for stuffing, and to get a free-range French turkey – which I found out that many poultry sellers with rotisseries will pop it on their spit-roaster for you, which is a boon for those in Paris with dinky ovens.

Cranberry Sauce

And, if I may be so bold, Thanksgiving is a holiday where we spend eating food that doesn’t especially appeal to people outside of the United States. The French eat pumpkins, but roasted, and not in dessert. (Nor with marshmallows!) The French version of stuffing, or farce is mostly meat, with a bit of seasonings to round out the flavor. And flour-thickened brown gravy isn’t quite the same as sauce au jus de volaille.

Cranberry Sauce

So while we Americans love all that stuff for nostalgic reasons, people in France don’t have that same set of references we do, and most seem to politely “appreciate” it, but I don’t know any French people who hoard molasses or stuffing mix, or spend the few months prior to November downloading Thanksgiving recipes.

Cranberry Sauce

One French fête that Thanksgiving neatly coincides with is the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, which happens annually on the third Thursday of November. The wine is very young and while there are signs promoting its release in windows of wine bars and shops in Paris, few of my high-fallutin’ wine friends will drink it. But there are some of us that will drink anything, so I usually have a glass or two, just to get into the spirit of things.

Cranberry Sauce

Another thing you see around Paris in November are fresh cranberries. Purveyors get them for les américains, and those little bags of red bead-like berries command a premium price – bien sûr. After the holiday passes, though, no one seems to have gotten the memo that you’re supposed to reduce the price after Thanksgiving because the panic to buy them is over. So it’s not economical to stock up and freeze them for future use.

I invest in them annually because I love cranberries and so do my American friends. And more and more, a few of my French friends do, too. This year, I decided to combine what was left of a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau with a bag of my precious red gems, along with dried figs, to extend the pricey bounty. And I served it forth, giving thanks to my friends and family who gather around the table with me, not just on one particular day of the year – but for all the other times that we do as well.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine and Figs

Adapted from Epicurious You can use any red wine that you like, one that’s fruity will work best – gamay, merlot, syrah, and Brouilly all are good choices. If you can’t get the candied orange, you can omit it or add the zest of 2-3 oranges. The figs work well as they don’t compete too much with the cranberries, which should be the star. But other diced, dried fruits would work; such as apricots, prunes, or pineapple. Light raisins would be nice, or perhaps go the all-berry route with dried cranberries or sour cherries.
  • 1 cup (250ml) fruity red wine
  • 1 cup (170g) diced dried figs, hard stems removed
  • 12 ounces (340g) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup (100g) diced candied orange
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered allspice or cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
  • In a non-reactive saucepan, heat the red wine and diced figs together until the wine is hot. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes, to soften the figs.
  • Drain the figs then add the wine back to the saucepan along with the cranberries, candied orange, sugar, and allspice or cinnamon and cook, covered, over medium heat until the cranberries have burst and are softened, about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir the figs and the vinegar into the cranberries.


The sauce can be made up to one week ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before serving.

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    • Belinda @themoonblushbaker

    That is an interesting in sight in to thanksgiving for Parisians. I know a few Americans who currently live in Australia right now and are very thankful for the constant supply of festive food. We seem to get into seasonal spirt lot earlier than most around the world; so finding a turkey is easy work down under.
    I like the us of figs here but If I was to make this for a group who did not drink; could I use a verjuice instead?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I think verjus would work just fine. Folks avoiding alcohol could also try fruit juice (like apple, grape, pineapple or orange) in place of the wine. A big squirt of lemon juice might be nice to give it back some acidity, or if something sweet is used – like apple or pineapple juice – perhaps dial back the sugar a tad, and taste when it’s done, adding more if desired.

    • Sharon

    I love Thanksgiving. I cannot not do it. For years now we have invited our German friends to my American Thanksgiving fest. Our first guest arrived this year saying: I look forward to this meal all year long! We all do. They’ve adapted to my quirks (black eyed peas, corn bread) even though these are never adapted to their own kitchens. And I have tried so many cranberry sauces – this year it was with ginger and orange. But thanks for yours, dear David. That will be on the menu soon, perhaps with duck :-)).

    • Kezia

    Thanksgiving isn’t really celebrated over here in England either – but I did buy some fresh cranberries today because they look so beautiful and are so versatile in sweet and savoury things. I think I’m going to put my cranberries in scones but I will save this recipe because my meat-eating family love cranberry sauce with their christmas turkey!

    • Patience

    Similar concept to the cranberry chutney my family’s made for years. My mother was raised in a dry family, hers has raisins for the sweet fruit, cider and a hint of ginger for the sharp tang. Do I dare commit a substitution this year?

    • Sharon

    (and yes, it was a few days early. After all, Thanksgiving in the US doesn’t coincide so well with the calendar here).

    • Lynn

    I made Thanksgiving this past weekend for 10 French folks and that’s the second and last time I’ll make pumpkin pie. The ones who tried it last year wouldn’t try it again, and the newbies didn’t like it, telling me it was more the texture than the taste. I took 3/4 of a pie home with me! One tip is Picard sells frozen cubed potiron (raw), which I used this year for the first time, and it came out just fine … well, according to me… ;)

    • Mallory @ Because I Like Chocolate

    What an awesome take on cranberry sauce, it is probably one of my favourite Thanksgiving sides!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Completely agree that Thanksgiving food is not exactly the most crave worthy food for those that did not grow up with it – jelly cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, yams with marshmallows, pumpkin pie, etc – but STUFFING however. So GOOD. I think even the French would love it…

    • Melissa

    I have been asked several times by Americans how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia. I have to say that we didn’t have Pilgrims and we are a pretty irreligious people. To me Thanksgiving food in general is not appealing, but then I don’t eat meat and not much sugar either. I love pumpkin, but not with sugar and marshmallows! I have some imported cranberries (we don’t grow them here) in my freezer which I’ve been wondering what to do with, so this is an interesting idea. What,other than turkey, could you serve this sauce with, David?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I often tell people that French people don’t “get” Thanksgiving like Americans do because (other than for the fact that they don’t have the nostalgia for it) – it’s about foods that aren’t exciting or aren’t necessarily to their tastes. Many French people consider sweet potatoes too sweet, and they’re not used to things like green bean casserole or pie made from pumpkin (although most seem to like that if they try it!) – but I have to say, my French other-half loves stuffing. You could serve this with any game or poultry dish. If you don’t eat meat, it would be nice with squash halves roasted with fresh sage or even with cheese.

    • Ruthy @ Omeletta

    My husband is Irish, and it always made me smile when we lived together in Ireland and friends and family back home in the States would ask, “How do the Irish celebrate Thanksgiving?” Um, it’s an American holiday, my dears, so they don’t :)
    That being said, I deeply missed the availability of American traditional Thanksgiving foods when I was there, and was definitely one of the hoarders of things such as molasses and mini marshmallows. This cranberry sauce looks divine- for all the ways I’ve prettied cranberry sauce up over the years, I never thought about figs! Would love to try this one.

    • Sarahb1313

    Was just looking at the epicurious version yesterday! I may be boring, but I make the same dinner every year, only once a year. The result is that my children have made it clear to their significant others that there is no option other than dinner chez moi. They anticipate the meal all year. My dad who lives 1/2 in Denmark makes his travel plans around Thanksgiving. Keeping family friends and loved ones close with food…. Just a little sinister :-)

    Happy Thankgiving over there in Paris.

    • Danja

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I was trying to decide whether to make just a plain old cranberry sauce, or go for something more interesting. Then I saw your post, and I knew that was the cranberry sauce I should make. So I did make it this evening, and it is amazing. I did not have figs, so I used dry apricots and golden raisins. Delicious! Merci beaucoup!

    • Chris J

    Interesting to note that finding American food in Paris can be a trick–or simply expensive. I always thought of Paris as rather international. Planning as we are to move to the Philippines eventually for retirement, I am well aware that living there is going to be a trick if I were to attempt to indulge myself in typical French cuisine, given that our retirement home will be out in the provinces (call it a countrified area) that may be lacking even in good wine, cheese, etc,

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      You can get some American ingredients in Paris, as most supermarkets have sections devoted to foods from other parts of the world (although the “American” aisle often has things that I’ve never heard of, or seen in America – like powdered cheesecake mix & Strawberry Fluff.) And there are stores and websites that sell American foods, which, of course, are quite busy this time of the year. So you can get things like stuffing mix, canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie spice, but like anything that’s imported from overseas (and taxes), the prices are quite high.

    • Beth A

    Loved this post, David, and I share many of your thoughts about doing Thanksgiving in Paris. We have “amused”, then “snagged for good” many normal French people into enjoying our Thanksgiving tradition. The first year, they look strangely at alot of the dishes, then they taste gingerly, then they hope to be invited back! Some of the guests have even started preparing and bringing some of the dishes, which is a real treat when you’ve been doing the whole show year after year by yourself. It is like having your aunt, mother or grandmother doing part of the cooking. We’ve tried every variation of pecan, apple or pumpkin pie, several versions of sweet potatoes and even the marshmallows on top of homemade candied sweets went over marvelously. The stuffing is always sausage, bread and onion because they never have that kind here. We’ve done green bean casserole, gratin of brussels sprouts, pearl onions from Picard, braised parnsips and round yellow turnips, peas and onions. We recently changed to cranberry sauce which is made with 1 cup of ruby port in place of the water – gotta try that one ! Even the occasional bread-making with Parker House rolls, you’d be surprised how fast those disappear instead of the Baguette. Note to those who don’t know, when you do bump into inexpensive cranberries after the Christmas and NY’s holidays, grab a few bags and put them in the freezer – they are very forgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to all !

    • Catherine @ Chocolate & Vegetables

    Ah, the expat experience of transporting food traditions. We have a bit of an inverse experience–this year my partner decided that he just HAD to make Christmas pudding, just like the one he grew up eating in the UK. Running down the ingredients has been quite the experience (we finally had to give up on suet, I can only find it at the garden supply store, where it’s already been mixed with birdseed!).

    • Cathy

    I do cranberry sauce with apples, to make it stretch, and because I like it. It’s not too difficult to find cranberries in London, but easier closer to Christmas.

    • Kristin Thomas

    I always make the Cranberry Sauce with Pinot Noir recipe from Bon Appetit, it has fresh ginger and crystallized ginger in it, I think I might consider throwing some figs in there this year, what a great idea!

    • Deborah

    I think I might try a bit of candied quince in place of the orange. Or mix it up.


    • Molly

    Just bought a 12 ounce bag of cranberries yesterday for under $1.00. (Aldi’s store in the States). Score!

    • Amy

    I LOVE that Thanksgiving is a holiday all our own in North America. I missed everything that surrounds the holiday when I was single living in France – family, food, and a glowing fire in the living room. I have taken over hosting this holiday from my mom, and my husband and I really enjoy the preparation and having everyone with us. For the record, I have never put marshmallows on sweet potatoes, nor have I made green bean casserole. I don’t take the fancy route by any means, but some typically American ways are not mine. I do make the same things every year, though, as dictated by my family!

    And this year will be all the more cozy since we already have snow!

    Happy Thanksgiving from across the ocean!

    • cynthia hinson

    I just spent 7 euros for a 12-oz. bag of cranberries (I live in Bordeaux.) Am still trying to catch my breath.

    • Linda

    I had a bunch of French people over last year for Thanksgiving and they loved everything from the turkey and dressing, the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes to the baked sweet potatoes (no marshmellows). I did your recipe for the nut and chocolate pie and it was a big hit. One person said they liked the variety of flavors and textures of the meal which, when you think of it is so true-all of the crunchy and whipped things along with sweet and sour. My favorite meal and I can’t wait to eat it again this year.

    • Heather Smoke

    This looks amazing. Cranberries are fairly cheap in the US this time of year, and I can usually get them “buy one get one free” right about now. Usually I make my cranberry compote with orange, but just made a version with seedless raspberry jam which I love. Next year, I will have to try it with red wine. :)

    • Caroline

    Yum, yum and more yum,

    • Laura M

    Great post, and I’m printing out your recipe to make this evening! I’m in Berkeley this year, but during the 10 years we spent Thanksgiving in Paris I would always order my turkey in advance from the appropriately named “Thanksgiving” store on rue St. Paul (the Marais). The owner has developed a relationship with a farmer who produces perfectly-sized birds for her customers.

    They will even cook the turkey for you, but I always pick mine up on Sunday and brine it. The Thanksgiving store is my go-to source for yams, and in addition they bake delicious pumpkin and pecan pies, and make cranberry sauce from scratch.

    I’ve purchased the pies and the sauce to take the time pressure off my solo work in the kitchen, cooking for 12 or 14, most of whom have never eaten a Thanksgiving meal before. Henceforth, thanks to you, I’ll make my own cranberry sauce.

    • Parisbreakfast

    I was surprised to see a big spread on Thanksgiving fete in a French foodie magazine recently. But nothing comes close to the way the French embraced the whoopie pie. fortunately they let go of that one…
    I will look for cranberries. so far nada.

    • Gavrielle

    Needless to say given it’s an American holiday, Thanksgiving is a non-event in New Zealand, and you’re right that the foods don’t seem very appealing if you’re not used to them. (Maybe they’re actually wonderful – I have no idea!) Not that I’m an expert food historian, but one thing that occurred to me reading your list of traditional Thanksgiving foods is that so many of them seem typical of 1950s American cooking. (Not the turkey, of course, but the green bean casserole, the sweet potatoes with marshmallows..) I wonder how that era’s food specifically got stuck as “the” thing to serve?

    • Joan

    I’m taking a little break while the Fresh Ginger Cakes (your recipe!) I’m making for Thanksgiving are in the oven and I’m so excited to see this cranberry sauce recipe. As luck would have it, my husband came home with a bag of dried figs the other day. Perfect timing David … merci!

    And by the way, the Fresh Ginger Cake has become my default Thanksgiving dessert. Last year, the plate was wiped clean while the pecan and pumpkin pies were left almost untouched. I serve it with a healthy gob of homemade whipped cream. It’s the best. And it’s nice with a cup of coffee the next morning too …

    • lizardz

    Yum. I will add dried figs this year. I use dried pineapple, golden raisins and grand marnier for the orange taste (also cuts down on the suger) David you are the BEST!

    • Gina

    I just churned uo a batch of cranberry sorbet from your Perfect Scoop recipe. Used a tsp or two of Aperol. Ohhh, it is beautiful and tasty! A different way to use those gorgeous berries. Happy Thanksgiving, David. I am thankful for you and your lovely, well-written blog. Tante bella cose!

    • sillygirl

    One year I did my perfect Thanksgiving meal – cold turkey sandwiches with a cranberry/horseradish sauce on homemade buns, a salad, crudites, some cold dessert (I don’t remember which one) and sparkling cider and we went to a Puget Sound park for our picnic and walked on the beach for exercise (we live near Seattle). My husband was a complete grump as he doesn’t like change – I drove us home while he nodded off so I thought it was a complete failure. Now to hear him tell it it was the most wonderful Thanksgiving we ever had! I loved the sauce on the sandwiches – I’ll make some again this year although we are going out for Asian food on the day – another perfect Thanksgiving meal for me!

    • Karen A

    I just made this last night and it is amazing. I used a combination of figs and dried currants along with a cabernet sauvignon that I had on hand. Absolutely lovely….Thank you, David, once again for providing such great recipes!

    • Michelle Beissel

    Lovely recipe and spot-on observations on how the French view a beloved American holiday.

    • Nicole Hough

    Delicious! Just made this and it is going to be divine. Small change: I didn’t have it in me to make candied orange peel today so I subbed 1/2 c dried apricots and plumped them with the figs, added zest of 1 orange, and doubled the vinegar. It is still warm and already so good. Thank you for the recipe. And the comments made me laugh. I remember trying to explain the Thanksgiving food to my French host family many years ago.

    • Nicole Hough

    (chopped the apricots!)

    • Faustine Cressot

    A nice twist on a classic Thanksgiving recipe. This was very interesting to read – because normally I won’t touch any cranberry dish set in front of me. Your ingredients list is what intrigues me and makes me want to give those little red berries another go. Thanks for the recipe David!

    • Ana in Chicago

    Just made this recipe using clementine’s zest for lack of oranges. Perfect combination of flavors.

    • Evangelia

    Just made this tonight with Kijafa Cherry Wine and the tiniest bit of bittersweet chocolate shavings, and it is delectable.

    • Title

    Thanks, David. Made this tonight with orange zest instead of candied orange…the house smelled wonderful! Can’t wait to try it tomorrow.

    • Helen in CA

    Interesting point about ’50s food. Well, the grandparents of today were children back then (I know I was) so that’s what’s nostalgic I guess. Tho nary a marshmallow touches my sweet potatoes & NO CANNED SOUP touches a green bean. I’ll admit to a sweet potato casserole w/ apples on top (and brown sugar and calvados w/ a little bit of orange juice & tons of butter).
    But that’s it. OOPS, gotta get my pumpkin pie outta the oven. Good-night

    • Jill

    We are visiting our son and his new French wife in the Loire Valley for Thanksgiving in their new/250+ year old home. We are roasting 2 free range chickens on a bed of herbs,vegetables and baguette croutons. We have made our favorite cranberry chutney with dried cranberries, clementines, apples and lots of wonderful spices since we couldn’t find fresh berries. It’s delicious and I may never make it the old way ever again. Pumpkin pie is being made with roasted pumpkin and the usual spices. Yum! It has been lots of fun adapting traditional family recipes for our first French/ American Thanksgiving!

    • Skye

    Love how you’ve added glacé orange and dried figs to the sauce – makes it SO much more exciting than the boring straight out of a jar kind… Do you think that other glacé fruits would work well too, like apricots say? Or lemon?

      • Laura M

      A quick response to Skye and Seanachie:

      Skye, in my opinion, this is a wonderfully adaptable recipe: you really can put any kind of “blue/purple fruit” in it. Instead of figs I used blueberries and raisins (the latter plumped up in apple cider vinegar, because another commenter suggested that more vinegar was called for).

      For the “minor notes,” yeah — why not try apricot? I made my own candied orange peel (found a great recipe here, and it was a revelation. I sliced them quite thin, and they didn’t make an impression upon first bite, but upon the 2nd or 3rd: they were like a surprise guest hidden in the sauce.

      Seanachie, as an American who has lived in France (and as the widow of an Irishman, as it happens), I am in complete agreement with you. Tonight at our Thanksgiving table I related David’s story of the Americans who inquire about how the French celebrate Thanksgiving, and everyone was in awe of their cluelessness! (And ov their solipsism, I might add.)

      As you mention, Thanksgiving is a *particular* memorial to our foundation story/myth, and it would be senseless to imagine that it could be adopted elsewhere, as Hallowe’en and other Anglo/American holidays have been.

    • seanachie

    I love Thanksgiving and celebrate it with American friends in Paris whenever I can (not this year, alas) but I am baffled as to why Americans think it might be generally celebrated outside the US. It is far too specific to American history and culture to travel far beyond its borders. Those holidays that have gone global – St Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Hallowe’en in its American incarnation – have done so largely because they can be easily commercialised as an opportunity to party. Thanksgiving, parades notwithstanding, is really a stay-at-home holiday, so that outlet isn’t there. It’s not really that the French, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t ‘get’ Thanksgiving – there’s simply just no reason why they would celebrate it, or have more than a passing interest in it. Expecting them to celebrate it would be akin to expecting Americans to get animated about Holland’s Queens Day or Orthodox New Year.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all in any case.

    • Jill

    Taking a day a year to give thanks for our family, friends and the bounty of our lives can and should be a global celebration. We have had a wonderful French/American day of thanks. Spread the joy!

    • seanachie

    It’s a nice thought Jill, but for most people in the world one of either Christmas, Passover, the two Eids, Chinese New Year, Diwali etc already fulfill that function. Even in my native Ireland, where most people are familiar with US customs, Thanksgiving wouldn’t have a hope of taking off – it’s too close, and too similar, to Christmas.

    • Carolyn Z

    Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah! Thank you for the generosity you show us with your recipes and discoveries! Looking forward to reading about your next travel adventure. Hope you had a wonderful day!

    • Candice Chevaillier

    Thanks David! Enjoy your blog and this recipe was perfect as we over looked the Eiffel Tower over Turkey last night! Thank you!

    • Catherine N

    For the Catherine above, who was looking for suet. If you have a local farmer’s market, you should be able to get suet (you’ll have to render it at home, of course, but that is not hard) (I found suet that way, going to try to make mincemeat)

    David, my mom always threw a nice Thanksgiving spread in Egypt. She ended up using date molasses a lot. :) No marshmallows. My first taste of rolls was a batch she made for one of our Thanksgivings… I don’t think we usually had pie…

    • Mike

    This was fabulous – everyone loved it. I must admit, however, that I have a horror of anything candied that usually shows up in fruit cake, so I substituted ginger for the orange. Still sublime. Thanks for giving a recipe for something new(ish) for the Thanksgiving table.

    • Katherine Scott

    I just love your blog, thank you for all your beautiful pictures and realistic cooking experiences. I made, or sort of made, this sauce for Thanksgiving. I used a combo of cheap brandy and expensive sweet vermouth as the wine, dried cranberries and turkish apricots as the figs, a few tiny pieces of the candied oranges my husband makes for his old-fashions and a heaping handful of meyer lemon zest. I wasn’t trying to stray from your recipe but I’m pregnant and basically on bed rest so I couldn’t go to the store and I NEEDED that sauce. I’m sure you understand! Anyway it is delicious, my husband won’t even let me share it with our neighbors; he’s hoarding it as the perfect condiment for leftover turkey sandwiches. It has a zippiness to it that is spectacular. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Laurie

    Grilled salmon is really tasty served with cranberry sauce. And of course it is great with chicken. I have even scooped some onto my waffles!
    Thank you for this recipe, I hadn’t thought to use wine as the liquid. Two bags of cranberries sitting in the fridge and I am feeling variations of your recipe already!

    • Linda

    I wish I’d seen this before Thanksgiving as it would have been on the table. Love the addition of figs to most anything.

    • Sylvia

    This sauce sounds really good. I use a recipe that I found somewhere (NYT, Gourmet?) a hundred years ago that uses honey for sweetener, ground orange for bitterness and tang, and a hint of cardamom for spice. Lovely.

    As for green bean casserole with soup and sweet potatoes with marshmallows (never mind pumpkin), those things never once made it onto my mother’s Thanksgiving table nor, since, to mine. The traditional foods of Thanksgiving are mostly New World and hence might be strange to many Europeans and the methods of cooking those foods tend to reflect an Anglo kitchen heritage*, yet I challenge any European to sit down to a well-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with an open mind and a curious palate and call it bad. That’s some good food, peculiar though it may be!

    *A Puerto Rican friend always marinates her turkey in orange juice and garlic, a la pernil. An Italian-American friend stuffs her turkey with spicy Italian sausage and her own bakery’s chewy Italian bread. And an Egyptian friend stuffs his turkey with rice and raisins. So the Anglo cooking methods get bent and adapted.


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