By Vida Gustafson

Contributing Writer

I didn’t grow up with cranberry sauce. My introduction to it came from my grandmother-in-law, who would eventually have to make double and triple batches for our family gatherings over the holiday season. 

We would heap the bright, tangy sauce on everything from leftovers to grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve even found certain members of my household eating it out of the container with a spoon in the middle of the night as if it were ice cream. 

Grammi didn’t leave her recipe anywhere we could find it, but we do know she used fresh cranberries and frozen orange juice concentrate. I’ve made a few batches of sauce now, trying to reverse engineer her recipe and I judged my success by how long the sauce remains uneaten in the refrigerator. I love the presentation and fun of an old-school aspic salad ring and have set my sauce with agar-agar, a jelling agent made from seaweed, making it kosher and vegan. 


  • 300 gr cranberries
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 2 tbsp orange juice concentrate 
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbsp orange liqueur or brandy (*optional)
  • 2 C water
  • 4 tsp agar-agar powder


Combine the agar-agar powder with the 2 cups of cold water in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and stir with a whisk. Let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring until all the powder is dissolved. Do not add the agar-agar to warm water, it will clump. Do not dissolve it in a liquid other than water, it might not set properly. Keep it warm and covered until you can add it to the cranberry sauce. In a separate saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, orange concentrate, zest and salt with a couple tablespoons of orange liqueur (or water) and cook over low/medium heat until the cranberries have softened and released their moisture, this will take approximately 15 minutes. Cover when not stirring, the cranberries can explode and make a mess!

Taste the sauce and make any adjustments you’d like — you can still add more sugar or a dash more orange concentrate. Be mindful that you still will be adding the two cups of water that the agar powder was dissolved in, so your sauce should have a strong flavor before that addition. When you are happy with the taste, add the hot agar-agar mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste again before removing from the heat and pouring into a mold, this recipe makes enough to fill a 4 C/ 1 liter ring mold. It will begin to set at room temperature and should be ready to unmold after an hour in the refrigerator.  You can make it even more special by making small individual sizes with any mold you have on hand to serve your guests!