Making Cranberry Sauce in Korea (a story, not a recipe)

Getting to Costco takes one hour and two busses. The first bus takes me down Namsan through Hannam-dong, South across the Han river and leaves me at Gangnam Station. It's the same bus that takes my husband to work at Samsung-town and me to Korean class at YBM. Then I pay extra to take one of the fancy red commuter busses even farther South to Yangjae. This journey is about the same as if I went to Costco in Queens from my old apartment in Park Slope, which is a thing I would never, ever, in a million years do without a car. In Korea, I do it roughly once a month.

We're hosting Thanksgiving dinner for seventeen people, in no small part, because I have the oven large enough to fit a Turkey. Also because, let's be real, cooking for seventeen people is much less stressful to me than going to a potluck and having to pretend to not be the world's pickiest and snobbiest eater. Even though I actually don't like most Thanksgiving foods, the menu I created was full of the classics because we're seventeen people not just away from our families but away from our country. Food has a lot of power to give us joy and comfort and that's what I want for our Thanksgiving day, to feel joyous and comforted. To have a few hours to forget how frustrating it can be to live somewhere so culturally and linguistically different and to be thankful for shared meals and conversations. 

During my October trip to Costco I noticed they had Turkeys and Martinelli's Sparkling Cider already. They didn't have any other Thanksgiving items but the inventory seems to always be changing so I was hopeful that as it got closer to the date, more foods would appear. Canned pumpkin! Fresh cranberries! In my wildest, most hopeful dreams, brussels sprouts. I'm not a religious person but for the last month, I've been PRAYING for brussels sprouts.

Wednesday I went to Costco and I loaded my cart up with the two largest Turkeys, sparkling cider, pounds of cheese, an obscene amount of juice for punch, bourbon, vodka, gin and our regular Costco groceries. I gave my body a full work out pushing what had to have ended up being a close to 100 pound cart circling and circling the produce section. No bags of fresh cranberries. No sugar pie pumpkins. No brussels sprouts. There weren't even any green beans. My only consolation was finding a bag of limes, I haven't had a lime since we've gotten to Korea. Even the one Margarita I've had was made with lemon.

To my credit, I didn't cry. If this had happened in New York, I would've cried. New York is a magical place where you can cry in public and it almost feels more private than crying at home because the world continues around you without even noticing. But I live in Korea and in Korea I'd be a weird white woman with ten times as many groceries in her cart as most of the Korean shoppers, sobbing. I can afford to buy peanut butter pretzels three pounds at a time, what do I have to cry about?

I slowly and meticulously pushed my beast of a cart down each aisle searching for canned cranberries or even frozen. Pumpkin pie you can mimic with almost any winter squash so I wasn't too worried about that but what was I going to do without cranberries?! I finally settled on buying a big bag of craisins figuring I could work some sort of magic with them and the cranberry juice cocktail I had in my cart for punch.

I paid for my groceries and packed them into my ridiculously gigantic reusable Costco bags and pushed my cart out to the curb to get a cab. Can you imagine getting a cab at Costco in Queens, having a cab driver be happy to take you back to Brooklyn and help you load 100 pounds of groceries into the trunk? I'm 99% percent sure that would actually be impossible but in Seoul it's rarely difficult. Also, it costs about $13.00. You win this round, Korea.

Thursday morning I went to eMart to get some more Thanksgiving supplies and crossed my fingers that maybe they'd have canned cranberries in the foreign food section or frozen cranberries with the other frozen berries. No luck. I sighed and made a plan to make imitation canned sauce using either gelatin or pectin, cranberry juice cocktail and an emptied and well cleaned diced tomato can. It's not exactly an ideal Thanksgiving Basics recipe but maybe it would be kind of fun.

To get pectin I had to go to High Street Market, an expensive import store in Hannam where you can go both to get over-priced goldfish crackers and vegan cheese. They don't really stock fresh produce but a small part of me was still dreaming of bags of Ocean Spray cranberries. I opened the door to the market and walked into a shelf piled with cans of pumpkin AND jellied cranberry sauce.

So this Thanksgiving, my recipe will be two cans of jellied cranberry sauce and one can opener. Hey, it's what my husband wanted anyways.