Friday, November 18, 2011

Cranberry Apple Salad

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's a great time to cook and hang out with your family, you don't have weeks leading up to it with stress and who gets what present... it's just a magical time to sit down with your family, eat some great food, and be thankful. Plus, as a bonus, the next day you can start thinking about putting up decorations for Christmas. Win/Win/Win.

This will be my first Thanksgiving at my in-laws house. I am happy we live close enough to them to have this opportunity, and happy we have family to share this day with... but I am a little hesitant. After all, what are holidays but years and years of traditions you expect to be upheld. And what is another family, but years and years of their own traditions. However, I did ask if I could make this dish.  This is food from "my part of the world," and I am bringing it to wherever I am.  In this case... it's the mid-west.

It's a little tart, it's sweet, and it's made of fruit so we serve it during the meal instead of during dessert (even though there are cookies and whipped cream and something resembling a frosting in there). It is Cranberry Apple Salad, and I have been in charge of making this for the holidays for about 10 years. I wouldn't want a holiday without it.  Where it comes from? I'm not sure.  But I know where it's going (and if it has anything to do with the number of people who ask for this recipe, it's everywhere).  And also in my mouth.

One of the many things I like about this salad is that you only have to use one food processor, and you only have to clean it once. It took me a couple of years to figure out the right order, so follow along!

Step one: drain your pineapple (and keep the juice). Let it drain while you're going about doing the rest of this... it needs to drain for a terrifically long time, so start now.

Alright, step two: crush a box of Nilla Wafers in your food processor until they are a "crumb." Put them aside for later.

Next wash the cranberries, and make sure you've got only good-ones there. (I'm not sure it matters in the long-haul, but I am pretty picky about my cranberries.) Now chop them up (I generally do this in two batches, so they don't get too small or juicy) and put them in a mixing bowl. Repeat with slices of apple.

Combine chopped cranberries, chopped apples, well-drained pineapple, marshmallows and sugar together and let it hang out for a bit in the bowl. Maybe an hour. Maybe overnight.

While you're waiting for that to meld (so you can re-drain it... because nobody likes a soupy salad), combine 2/3 of your crushed Nilla Wafers and a couple of tbs of butter. Press it into the bottom of a glass-looking (or actual glass, whatever) cake pan.

Now, back to the processor, put a package of softened cream cheese and a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar. While the food processor is running, add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice (feel free to drink the rest). You're looking for a thin-consistancy frosting-like layer. Now add it on top of the crumb base. This is starting to look good.

If your cranberry mixture is looking soupy, feel free to drain it again (this is where I generally start on day-two. Either way, this stuff needs to wait overnight.). Add it on top of the "white" frosting-like layer and spread out evenly.

Now whip some cream (and add some vanilla and powdered sugar), and add it to the top. Top this ALL off with that 1/3 reserved nilla wafers. And now you have got the most delicious and festive dish on any table. Eat it with dinner. Eat it with dessert. Eat it the next morning for breakfast (it is made of fruit...). Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Apple Salad

Crumb Layer:
box of Nilla Wafers
3 tbs melted butter

White Layer:
package of cream cheese (softened)
2 tbs. powdered sugar
1/4 cup pineapple juice

Cranberry Layer:
1 cup crushed pineapple (well-drained - reserve liquid)
2 cups cranberries
3 medium apples (any kind, but preferably firm and red)
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup sugar

Whipped Cream

  • Crush Nilla Wafers and set aside.
  • Process cranberries and apples (in batches to limit "soupyness") until medium/fine chopped and combine with (drained) pineapple, marshmallows and sugar. Set mixture aside.
  • In the same processor, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and drizzle in pineapple juice until thin frosting-like consistancy.
  • Combine 2/3 of the crushed Nilla Wafers and butter - press into cake pan to form crust.
  • Cover crust with white cream cheese layer.
  • Add cranberry layer to the cake pan (making sure it is well-drained).
  • Refrigerate overnight. (note: you can refrigerate the cranberry layer separately and drain the next day if desired.)
  • Add sweetened whipped cream and remaining cookie crumb to salad and serve.


  1. I LOVE this salad. Your mom used to make this for Thanksgiving and Christmas when you guys lived in Calgary - that scares me, because it was before you were even born! I'm happy you are carrying on the tradition with this delicious salad! The Thompsons will LOVE it. Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless us, Everyone. (That applies to Thanksgiving too, right?). xo

  2. Forgetting for a moment that fat free Nilla Wafers are excessively dry, this salad looks as good as it tastes, which is saying something! Festive with the tiny bits of green apple skin peeking out! And now I'm officially dying for a wad of this deliciousness. For the record, you can also serve this in a lovely cut glass salad bowl, making the fruit layer a little deeper and reducing the yardage somewhat. Scrummy no matter how you slice (or layer) it. :)

    Thanks, Ginger Chef!

  3. I read the blog to your Grandmother in The Great White North, Ms GC, and she loved the blog and says the recipe is nicely simplified. She said that back BFPE - (before Food Processor Era) there was a LOT of chopping and prepping to make the dish, so it was kind of a Big Deal to make. Now it's easier. She sends joyful Thanksgiving wishes. As do I.

  4. Love it Sarah! So easy to follow, Thanks for sharing

  5. A Holiday Classic! I have to smile as I re-read the comments. God bless us every one, indeed!