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The History of Canned Cranberry Sauce

Canned or jellied cranberry sauce is a unique condiment that’s popular at many Thanksgiving tables. But how did it come to be? Cranberry sauce made with whole berries dates back to when indigenous people gathered berries and used them to make sauces (the berries were also used to make textile dyes and medicines). Cranberry sauce is first mentioned in relation to turkey in Amelia Simmons’s 1796 book, American Cookery. But cranberry sauce didn’t truly become a key part of Thanksgiving dinners across America until General Ulysses S. Grant paired it with Thanksgiving turkey and served both to Union soldiers during the siege of Petersburg in 1864. Less than 50 years later, canned cranberry sauce was introduced. This happened in part because cranberries only grow in five states (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington state) and have a very short harvest period. So in the early 1910s, Marcus Urann (one of the future founders of what would become Ocean Spray) started canning cranberries as a way to sell them year-round. His jellied cranberry sauce became available nationwide in 1941, forever changing the landscape of the Thanksgiving table.  Today, Ocean Spray sells around 80 percent of its jellied sauce for the year on Thanksgiving week, and the jellied version is three times as popular as the company’s whole-berry version. It seems safe to say that canned cranberry sauce won’t be giving up its spot at the Thanksgiving table any time soon!

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