Holidays, cranberries & 1 patent to put ridges on the jelly

Holidays, cranberries & 1 patent to put ridges on the jelly

Holidays equal cranberries. And what holiday meal is complete without a feeding of freshly cooked cranberry sauce. In my family, cranberry sauce was home-made, starting with raw cranberries.  Put them on to boil, add some sugar and serve. Nothing is easier. I like to grate a bit of fresh ginger into the pot while the berries are coming to a boil to add a touch of zing. Ours was more a relish than a jelly, and tarter than canned varieties.

The cranberries harvested for commercial use are Vaccinium macrocarpon and native to North America. There are over 100 varieties within the Vaccinium family alone. It has an impressive international pedigree:

North American cranberries have cousins in Europe. Vaccinium vitis-idaea is known as the preisselberre in Germany, the lingonberry in Sweden, the cowberry in England and also partridge berry, foxberry, upland cranberry, rock cranberry and mountain cranberry.
Cranberry Facts from Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery.

My earliest memories came from learning how to cook with my Mom. We made everything from scratch because it was cheaper. We’d look in the cupboard and decide what to make based on what was there. Often, we would page through Mom’s cookbook seeing if there was something new, we could do with the same old ingredients.

I remember learning to make cranberry sauce. I was measuring out the sugar and Mom stopped me. I said that’s what the recipe calls for. She looked over the rim of her glasses and said, “you never use the amount listed”. She plopped the cranberries into water, brought it to a boil and we waited for the “pop, pop, pop” sound. Once the cranberries started to shed their skins, Mom would decide if more water was needed.  Once all the cranberries were de-skinned, sugar was added, slowly. A little at a time and left to simmer. Taste and decide if more sugar was needed. Repeat if needed. Over the years, I began to add diced up tangerines and a bit of ginger to the mixture. Mom was horrified when she discovered my adulteration. She was a cranberry purist. But ginger cranberry sauce is great on toast in the morning.

Cranberries don’t come with ridges in the wild

Photo of a slab of cranberry jelly showing ridges from the can

Slab ‘o cranberries

I have a friend who thinks it’s not cranberry sauce if he can’t see the ridges left from the can. Believe it or not, there’s a patent for those ridges. Ok, I’m lying, not the ridges, but the whole canned jellied cranberry stuff, seeds, and all.

Edward E. Anderson, Lexington, William F. Hampton, South Duxbury, and Arthur W. Anti, Kingston, Mass, assignors, by direct and mesne assignments, to Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., Hanson, Mass, a corporation of Delaware Ser. No. 78,238 2 Claims. (CI. 99-129) 

The original patent was filed Dec. 27, 1960, and granted July 28, 1964 on behalf of Ocean Spray, the ubiquitous giant of red berry products. Earlier canned cranberry jellies were pressed through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. According to Ocean Spray, this step meant a loss of 10% of the raw cranberry product. If you are in the business of food production, this is a substantial waste.

It is therefore a primary object of this invention to provide a process by which the entire cranberry may be
used to form a jellied sauce. It is another object to provide a method of making a novel jellied cranberry sauce
which contains the entire cranberry..


Ocean Spray’s new process starts with turning whole cranberries (fresh or frozen) into a puree and then cooked with sugar. The crushed cranberries were required to pass through a sieve 0.027 inch in diameter. That ensured a uniform puree. If you’re mashing the canned cranberries around your plate this year, look at the size of the seeds and that will give you an idea of how fine the mesh is. According to the patent, if pieces were larger than .027″, the puree won’t create the “desirable smooth gel-like texture”.

At sieve measurements between “0.006 and 0.027 the puree gives a constantly smooth jellied sauce without objectionably discrete particles being present.” Objectionably discrete particles meant things like overly large chunks and skins that rolled up instead of being macerated.

Next was the cooking process. The mashed-up puree would pass along to be mixed with sugar and water, both balanced to form a smooth gel once cooled. Then off to the cooking stage. The mixture was to be heated from between 180 to 218 F for up to 10 min. This process cooked the berries into a gel and effectively sterilized them. The cooked cranberries would be poured into cans or jars and vacuumed sealed while still hot.

And this is why there are ridges on your canned cranberries. It’s the cans Ocean Spray opted to use. The cans act as a mould, and as the cranberry jelly cooled, it forms into the shape of the can, ridges, and all. Thus, was born a weird tradition – slabs of cranberries complete with can shapes. I suspect, if Ocean Spray changed the shape of their cans to a non-ridged type, there might be a mutiny in Cranberry Land.

It’s not all one cranberry recipe fits all

The interesting part of this patent was the different types of cranberries. If you’ve cooked your own sauce, you know you must be careful with the amount of water and sugar used or you end up with sweet, cranberry soup instead of sauce. Mom’s adage was “start off with a minimal amount of water and add some later if needed”.

The patent looks at frozen early black cranberries, raw early black cranberries, and fresh Howe cranberries, each requiring different macerating techniques and amounts of sugar/screen size/cooking times.

The above description and examples show that, by the process of this invention, a new jellied cranberry sauce may be made from the whole cranberry. All of the cranberry is used and the time and labor required to make a finished product are materially decreased.

DIY can molds

So many have grown up expecting ridges on their cranberries that a cottage industry has sprung up telling people how to make their own cranberry jelly complete with the can indents. Here’s one if you want to try it.

I don’t have anything against canned cranberries. They’re a bit sweeter than I like but I prefer cooking my own. I get a nostalgic rush thinking of days rooting through the cookbook with Mom and learning how to use various ingredients. Up until her death this year, we still spent time together in the kitchen. We would chat and laugh when putting together something new, just like when I was a child. One of my enduring memories is hearing Mom sing while crashing pots and pans about. Christmas won’t be the same this year without the smells of something roasting in the oven, the banging of pots and “Silver Bells” being sung off key. I was still learning from her until the end. Thanks, Mom, for the skills and the memories.

Did you enjoy this article?

Check out the patent for frozen cranberries found in TV dinners. I had fun writing this one a few years ago.

Ponder the TV dinner cranberry sauce – yes, there is a patent for that.

Ponder the TV dinner cranberry sauce – yes, there is a patent for that.

Ponder the TV dinner cranberry sauce – yes, there is a patent for that.

Image from vintage Swanson's TV frozen dinner ad showing cranberry sauce

Tinfoil & frozen slabs of food.

Ever lay in bed wondering about something and become obsessed with it? Over the past weekend, for reasons that admittedly mystify me, I became obsessed with the little cranberry slots in frozen tv dinners. You know that scoop of jellied red stuff that comes with frozen turkey dinners? It’s supposed to be cranberry sauce. What I began to wonder is, why doesn’t it turn into a pile of liquid goo when it’s heated in the oven? Why doesn’t it melt?  Guess what? There’s a patent for that, plus some mad cooking chemistry.

“Cranberry sauce is now so widely recognized as an almost indispensable accompaniment of any turkey dinner, that it is sorely missed when omitted from frozen turkey TV dinners.”
1964 Patent filing Ocean Spray

Ocean Spray was right, turkey dinners aren’t complete without cranberries. It’s big, big business. I can’t even envision Thanksgiving without a big dose of cranberry sauce. Adding a little tray of it to a tv dinner would be a strong selling point. Scoff at such an invention as cranberry sauce that maintains its form after being frozen & then heated, but it boils down to marketing dollars.

To Google Patent Search!

Of course, my first stop was a quick search of patents and there it was – the magic behind solidified cranberry sauce, courtesy of Ocean Spray, the cranberry behemoth in the US. They filed a patent for that tiny bit of red stuff in 1964 titled METHOD OF MAKING FROZEN DINNER CRANBERRY COMPONENT, United States Patent 73,360,385 granted 1969.

“A method for maintaining cranberry sauce in a gelled state upon thawing of a frozen TV dinner, comprising adding an acid tolerant, quick acting freeze surviving vegetable gelling agent such as hot hydrated starch to cooked cranberries, adding a sugar syrup, cooking the mix to form a sauce, placing an individual serving of the cooked sauce in the TV dinner package and subjecting the contents to a freezing environment to freeze said sauce.”
Patent filing Sept. 9, 1964, Ser. No. 395,323

Now, here’s the problem tv dinner makers faced with cranberry sauce – it wasn’t friendly to freezing.  It also wasn’t friendly to being made in large quantities. When manufacturers tried, they were left with “packages … on thawing, in an un-gelled flowing liquid so unfamiliar as to be unacceptable to the consumer” [r/f Patent]. Such a mess was unappetizing to the average consumer. So, they were faced with the conundrum of how to make cranberry sauce on a large scale, have it freeze and bake while maintaining a shape and consistency acceptable to the public – but still be cost effective.

Troubles with cranberry sauce stabilization.

An interesting issue subsequently cropped up, even after a stabilized product was made – the mechanized process of dropping the sauce onto the tv tray broke down the gelled status, creating the same problem. Something in the mechanical pumping system caused the problem.  The option of having the cranberries scooped onto the tray by hand was discarded. It was far too time consuming and labour intensive to be profitable.

So that left them with the same problem – how to get cranberries onto the tray quickly and still have it recognisable.  The solution lay in cooking chemistry. After experimenting, Ocean spray produced this mixture:

  • 500 pounds of cranberries
  • 30 pounds waxy corn starch to act as a gelling agent
  • 60 pounds of sugar syrup
  • 30 gallons of water.

The cranberries were cooked down in 25 gallons of water (at around 190F) and then strained.  The starch was mixed to the remaining water and heated to 190 F and then added to the cranberries. The syrup was immediately added and cooked until the mix reached an acceptable consistency. The sauce could then be piped directly onto the trays while hot and sent off to be quick frozen. When Ocean Spray popped the dinners into an oven, the cranberry sauce remained in a gelled state and didn’t “contaminate” the rest of the foods. And the rest is marketing history – turkey dinners complete with a little compartment of cranberries.

That’s interesting chemistry at work – you need just enough gelling agent and the right temperature to obtain optimal jelly status on an industrial scale. What’s not to love about that little blob of gelled cranberry sauce that is impervious to mechanical insertion, heat and freezing?

One thing that comes to mind is, has the recipe been altered now that that the dinners are on microwavable cardboard trays? Did they have to alter the recipe? Does microwaving effect the formula? Something to look consider.


Read the original patent here – Method for making frozen dinner cranberry component

Vintage ad for Swanson TV dinner with Turkey and cranberry sauce

Does Swanson still make this?

Check out my newest cranberry related patent.

Holidays, cranberries & 1 patent to put ridges on the jelly