Kitchn Love Letters

The Julia Child Thanksgiving Recipe I’ve Been Making for Over 30 Years

published Nov 9, 2021
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Credit: David McCann

When I was a child, both Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners involved a bowl containing a jiggly red substance that looked like a bright red can — marks and all. I could only assume it was strawberry or raspberry Jell-O, so imagine my surprise when I tasted it! It was both too tart and too sweet — not an easy combination to manage. Plus, it was so firm that I wondered if I could bounce it off the dining room wall. (Luckily, I didn’t try). This was my first encounter with the uniquely American holiday accompaniment: canned cranberry sauce. It was not an auspicious meeting.

As I grew up, I surreptitiously passed the bowl without eating any. But because everyone else ate it, I thought, Am I missing something? So I tried it again. I still didn’t like the texture or the overpowering sweetness, but I did like the way it cut through the incredible richness of a holiday dinner. I began to wonder if there was a way to have my cranberries and eat them, too!

Credit: David McCann

And then, as she does for so many of us so frequently, Julia Child came to my rescue. It was 1983, and every Sunday in Parade magazine there was a column by a famous cook. That week, it was Julia Child, and her recipe was for cranberry chutney. I had never heard of it before, but I was intrigued. Chutney originated in India as a spicy or savory condiment, although the word is now applied to anything preserved in sugar and vinegar.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that Julia might just have the solution to my problem. Of course, this was before I realized that Julia always knows best. I quickly took stock of the ingredients I had and the ingredients I needed, and then ran to the store.

Within an hour, the chutney was bubbling away on the stove, and my kitchen smelled like heaven. Cranberries; a hint of spice from the mace, ginger, and curry powder; a deep base note from the onions and currants; the bright aroma of oranges … it was all there. And the taste of Julia’s chutney was everything I had hoped it would be — not too sweet, but just sweet enough, with enough backbone that kept me going back for more.

I have made a holiday batch of this chutney every November since 1983. Everyone loves it, and it can last for months in the fridge. Now, at the holiday table, I never pass the cranberry bowl without taking some. When in doubt, ask Julia. She will never steer you wrong.

Credit: David McCann

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.