My mom has a recipe on Epicurious. At first I found that amusing. Epicurious, after all, is the holy grail of recipe websites, the collected works of some of the best food writers in the country. And, to put it most kindly, my mom was not a gifted cook.
Oh, it's a good recipe. Maybe a great recipe. We printed it in the Los Angeles Times for the first time in 1992, and for the last time in 2000, and I still get calls and emails every Thanksgiving.
It has just the right balance of sweet and tart. I can -- and sometimes do -- drink the syrup straight. The texture is like a loose jelly, but the cranberries are cooked briefly, so they still have pop. It's so good that I know my mom couldn't have thought it up herself.
To my mom, cooking was not about the joy of creation, it was a part of housework -- something that had to be done to feed six people three times a day. Later, when we kids were more grown, she dabbled in baking. But even then she harbored a deep distrust of written recipes.
The cranberry sauce is pretty easy to make: You boil spiced simple syrup and then add the berries and cook them just until they start to pop. Chill for a couple of days, and you're good to go.
So where does this recipe come from? After a couple of weeks of concerted searching, I still don't know. I've looked through my old editions of "Joy of Cooking" -- my mom's family's kitchen bible -- and though there is a spiced cranberry recipe somewhat similar in structure, the technique and balance of ingredients are different.
My sister pointed to the 1943 edition of "The American Woman's Cookbook," which she remembers my mom using. There's a spiced cranberry recipe in there, but again, though the ingredients are similar, they're put together in a different way.
I used my best Google-fu, but even after searching through 10 pages of results, still couldn't find anything that matched. I took it to the hive mind on Facebook with no luck. I even queried Ocean Spray, the cranberry growers' cooperative, but they couldn't help, either.
At this point, I guess it's going to have to remain a Thanksgiving mystery.
And in a way, I think that's kind of fitting -- let's let it stand as a tribute to all those anonymous souls who labor in the kitchen, cooking not for the fun of it but simply because the families they love need to eat.
They can't all wind up on Epicurious, but they still deserve our thanks.