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Highbush Cranberry Sweet and Sour Sauce

Highbush cranberry sweet and sour sauce is not a delicate condiment; not one with gentle nuances that hint at flavors. This is a no-nonsense sauce that stands up and looks venison right in the eye. It doesn't turn it's back on moose. HBC sweet and sour sauce makes vegetables dance. It gives that extra zing to ham and beans without any kick or burn.

Highbush cranberry (viburnum edule)

I started out making highbush cranberry sweet and sour sauce from the highbush cranberry ketchup recipe that my sweetie developed. With several batches of HBC ketchup stowed in drawers on the boat, it is easy to grab a jar and do this:

  • One pint jar highbush cranberry ketchup
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup vinegar (to taste)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup brown sugar (to taste)
  • 8-10 slices ginger root
  • 1 clove garlic grated or minced
  • 2 tablespoons San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce
  • Maybe two tablespoons of corn starch and 1/4 cup water

Put all ingredients into a medium pot and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have blended and the consistency is to your liking (usually about 15 minutes). If the sauce does not thicken up enough then shake two tablespoons of tapioca starch or corn starch and a quarter cup of water in a jar, stir into the sauce, and simmer gently, stirring constantly until thickened.

The ginger slices will give the sauce more flavor for a few days, and then, if there is any sauce left, remove the ginger slices. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

This 'smells the boat up really nice' while it is cooking.

Highbush Cranberries are not actually cranberries, but that is what we call them anyway.

Highbush Cranberries are not actually cranberries, but that is what we call them anyway.

I did make a full batch of HBC sweet and sour sauce and jar it up. It was a seat-of-the-pants affair; adding a little more of each ingredient until it tasted about right. I can't give you an exact recipe right now. It worked just fine, and here are a few notes... I used the highbush cranberry ketchup recipe, adding the ingredient list above in greater amounts. I increased the pectin and calcium water (from the ketchup recipe) by 1/2 teaspoon each, and did not add any tapioca or cornstarch thickener. Starch thickeners tend to separate and get yucky (technical term) in storage. I grated the ginger instead of slicing it. Into pint and half pint jars it went, and was processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. With the berries and the vinegar this is a high acid recipe, and does not have to be pressure canned.

If you are not familiar with canning please do some reading on the UAF Cooperative Extension Service site or take a class. Or both! When Roxie of UAF Cooperative Extension Service came through Wrangell I took her canning class and it was great fun and very informative.

May you savor each day,

Alaska Beachcomber

More on highbush cranberry uses: Highbush Cranberry Ketchup, Highbush Cranberry Punch

Lots more good stuff about foraging food here: Food and Medicine From Nature

Highbush Cranberry Punch

Yesterday I posted about making highbush cranberry ketchup and promised that I would let you know about a treat you can make from the seed mash. This is a simple drink that is tasty and slightly fizzy.

Leftover seed mash from making highbush cranberry ketchup.

Leftover seed mash from making highbush cranberry ketchup.

After straining out most of the pulp to make the ketchup there is this unappetizing, seedy goop left over. It has a lot of berry goodness left in it, though! Put it in a big bowl and add 4 cups of water. Using a mixer or whisk (or even a DeWalt Mixer which you can see here) beat the water and mash together for 3 to 5 minutes. It will get bubbly.

Mixing water with the seed mash.

Strain the juice off using a strainer or cheesecloth. Squeeze firmly, even if you have to use your bare hands. Hey, you worked hard picking those berries, so you are getting the most out of them!

Add to the juice:

The outer rind of a lemon, peeled off with a potato peeler. You can squeeze the lemon juice and add that, too, if you don't have other plans for it.

1 cup sugar or to taste.

At serving time fill a glass halfway with highbush cranberry juice and the other half with Martinelli's Sparkling Cider.

If you are celebrating then add a shot of blueberry liqueur or lowbush cranberry liqueur.


Alaska Beachcomber

Highbush cranberry punch

More yummy foods from the woods here: Food and Medicine from Nature 

And if you haven't made highbush cranberry ketchup the recipe is here.

There's also Highbush Cranberry Sweet and Sour Sauce!

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Highbush cranberries look beautiful. They are easy to pick, easy to clean, and smell like dirty gym socks. It took me years to get past that musty smell. I had seen recipes for highbush cranberry ketchup, but why bother with something that really didn’t smell like anything I would want to eat?

Highbush cranberry bush (Viburnum edule)

One day a friend told me that she had been given a jar of highbush cranberry ketchup. We both wrinkled our noses. Then we got curious. Obviously that person wouldn’t give something that tasted like sour laundry to their friend, so we got out two spoons and popped the lid off of the jar. We each dipped the tip of a spoon into the red sauce and gingerly took a taste. It was…sort of ketchup-y, but different; more robust, more alive. Our eyebrows went up, then down. Our eyes narrowed. We started mentally staking out highbush cranberry patches. We would go together, pick buckets full, make gallons of ketchup. Little did I know then that making ketchup is a lot of work.

I am a berry picker, but the processing end is just a wee tad sketchier for me. My husband, however, has the patience and discipline to make jam and ketchup, go methodically through each step, and even write down what he did so that it is repeatable if it is good. So far it is all good. The highbush cranberry ketchup took some experimenting to get the consistency and flavor to where we like it, but we valiantly ate through all of the steps along the way. And we are going to share the recipe with you!

First pick and clean enough highbush cranberries to fill one gallon Ziploc bag. Cleaning is simply removing stems and rinsing the berries in a colander. The berries freeze well. We often freeze them and process them in the winter when we have a little more time. They seem to give up their juice better if they have been frozen.

Thawing highbush cranberries to make ketchup.

This is a long process, so set aside at least four hours. This article assumes that you have some experience with canning. If you have not canned before then please take a class from your cooperative extension service, educate yourself by reading their publications, or study a good book that covers home canning such as the Ball Blue Book. Don’t take shortcuts! In Alaska the cooperative extension service publication catalog has some very good articles that you can download free here:


Read all through the following, gather up all of your canning supplies, and here we go…


Alaska Beachcomber Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

  • 1 gallon Ziploc bag of highbush cranberries (makes 4 ½ to 5 cups of pulpy juice)
  • 3 tsp. Pomona’s pectin (we tried several brands, and this one gave consistently good results)
  • 4 tsp. Pomona’s calcium water (the powder to mix comes in the package with the pectin)
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons celery salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ to one cup white vinegar (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cups water

Cook the onions in a small amount of the water (about ½ cup) until translucent. Put them in the blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Pour one gallon bag of cranberries into a large stock pot. Put just enough water in to prevent scorching (just a cup or two), and turn the heat on low to get the berries started. When the berries have made enough juice that they won’t scorch turn the heat up to medium. A potato masher helps to pop the berries after they get hot. Cook the cranberries until they are soft, then put through a sieve to remove seeds and skins. A chinois works very well for this, but if you don’t have one then push small batches through a mesh sieve with a large spoon, setting the seeds and skins aside. Don’t throw out the seed mash yet, tomorrow I will post a bonus recipe that uses that.


Separating seeds and skins from the berry pulp.

Put berry pulp and pureed onion back into the stock pot. Add spices, sugars, and vinegar. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally until color begins to darken and the flavor is right. The simmering can take one to two hours. We taste test occasionally to check if the flavors have blended.

While the ketchup is simmering, wash 5 pint jars and one half-pint jar and put them in oven at 260 degrees or put them into a pot of simmering water.

Wash the lids and put them in a small pot of water on small burner, bring to a simmer.

The ketchup will darken in color as it cooks. The batch on the right is just starting. The one on the left is almost ready.

Fill the canner or a large canning pot ½ full of water and put on the big burner, bring to a simmer.

On the counter assemble jar grabber, jar rings, towel, ladle, jar funnel, lid magnet, and hot pads, along with a clean, damp cotton cloth to wipe jar rims.

Once the ketchup is the proper flavor then add the calcium water and pectin: The best way we have found to prevent the pectin from clumping is to ladle about two cups of the hot ketchup into the blender, add the calcium water and pectin, and blend it for about 30 seconds. Pour that back into the stock pot immediately and stir it in.

The rolling boil after the pectin is put in continues boiling when stirred.

Bring to a full rolling boil for one minute stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, ladle into hot jars leaving ¼ inch headspace, wipe rims with the cotton cloth, and cover with lids. Screw the rings on.

Ladling hot ketchup into hot jar.

Placing a jar into the simmering water bath.

Place in simmering water bath using the jar grabber. Bring to a gentle boil and process for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars from the water bath with the jar grabber and set them about an inch or two apart on a folded towel away from drafts. The lids should seal (with a “TINK!” sound) within a few minutes, but this may take up to several hours. Refrigerate any jars that don’t seal and eat the contents up within a few weeks.

Write the contents and date on the lids or affix a label to the jars.

The flavor gets better if left unopened for one month.

Tomorrow I will post a little bonus recipe using the leftover seed and skin mash.

Pints of highbush cranberry ketchup ready for labeling.