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Embrace the can

“It won’t go down,” I whispered to the person sitting next to me as a sweet old lady watched me eat her Thanksgiving dressing and gravy.

I wasn’t lying. Not only would it not go down, but the dressing, gravy and homemade cranberry sauce was coming back up. To my horror, it was soon hurtling from my mouth and back onto the table. There were convulsions, coughs and a look of horror on everyone’s face.

That was the first time I had put dressing and gravy in my mouth and it would take me several more years to muster the courage to do it again. That particular version of dressing was soupy, full of celery and smelled like the inside of a turkey. The gravy was full of eggs and giblets and smelled like eggs and giblets.

It was a combination my body found unacceptable. I apologized, cleaned myself up as best I could and carried on with the meal without one shred of dignity. I never ate another meal at the sweet old lady’s house.

My food choices at Thanksgiving have evolved over the years. I even eat dressing and gravy now (depending on who cooks it). But the one thing that has remained the same is my love of cranberry sauce. Not the homemade variety with actual cranberries in it, but the purplish jellied stuff that comes in a can and makes a unique sucking sound when you finally free it from the tin.

This combination of sugar, red food coloring and what I assume might be cranberry juice can make any Thanksgiving dish better. It is also the perfect condiment for a leftover turkey sandwich. And it must be sliced perfectly along the can marks and not chopped or otherwise mashed in an effort to make it look like something it is not.

It’s the cranberry sauce my mother used when I was a child and though she now often makes a homemade variety, she still plops a can-shaped version on a white plate every year.

At some point, someone in the family decided we were too good, our palates too refined for the canned stuff and started making it from scratch. But we are only fooling ourselves. The canned stuff is better, even if we are too embarrassed to admit it.

The same goes for a box of Kraft mac and cheese. As adults, we are supposed to be above eating the nuclear yellow version out of the box. But I could sit down right now and eat an entire box and be a happy fellow.

The appeal is the same for both — a bit of nostalgia, and when it comes to the canned sauce, a ton of sugar. But there are other reasons why canned is better. And don’t tell me you have a recipe for homemade that would change my mind. I’ve tried quite a few versions of the real stuff and none of them stack up. Bogue Chitto Principal Scott Merrell agrees. Check out his defense of canned sauce on the front of the Lifestyles section today.

It’s cheap and easy

A can of sauce — I don’t think sauce is the right word, but that’s what it’s called on the can — is cheaper than making it yourself, by a long shot. The off-brand stuff is less than $1 per can. And it literally takes 30 seconds to prepare, as long as you know the trick to getting it out of the can. First, slide a butter knife around the edge all the way down the sides to break the seal created when the liquid goodness was poured into the can. Then, give it a good shake. If it still doesn’t want to slide out, put a hole in the bottom of the can to help release it. If all goes well, you will have perfectly ribbed sauce sliding onto a plate in no time.

It stays put

Aside from the fact that the canned stuff tastes better, it also won’t combine with other foods on your plate unless you want it to. The canned stuff knows its place and stays there. The real stuff runs all over, polluting foods that have no business mixing with cranberries.

Cranberries are actually disgusting

Have you every eaten an actual cranberry? Not the sugar-laced cranberry juice or a dried cranberry, but an actual raw cranberry. They are terribly sour. To disguise this fact, most homemade cranberry sauces require enough other ingredients to make them taste like something else. The canned stuff doesn’t really taste like a cranberry, and that’s a good thing.

It’s pretty on a plate

Once sliced into perfect rounds, the jellied stuff looks quite nice, especially on a white plate. I admit, the unsliced version looks a bit unrefined jiggling on a platter, but pull a knife along those can lines and soon you’ll have a plate fit for any feast.

It feels like home

No matter where you are from, or what kind of Thanksgiving you have experienced, I bet jellied cranberry sauce was part of the meal. I’m sure there are some of you who have only eaten the homemade variety, but you are in the minority. For most of us, a can of purple goodness reminds us of the holiday season. So embrace the can.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.