Fresh cranberries, which contain the highest level of beneficial nutrients, are the tart, bright red cousin of blueberries. They are high in vitamin C and A, potassium and fiber and have long been valued as one of nature’s best weapons against cystitis and urinary tract infections, but they also promote gastrointestinal and oral health. At their peak from October through December, cranberries add their festive hue and tangy flavor to holiday meals.
American Indians enjoyed cranberries cooked and sweetened with honey, but also used them for red dye, as a poultice for wounds and for barter. Originally referred to as "craneberries," either because the bud & stem resembled a crane or because the cranes on Cape Cod at the berries, they were also called “bounce berries” because they bounced the berries against a hard surface to test their ripeness. By the 18th century, the cultivated American native cranberry produced berries that were exported to England by the colonists and today, Massachusetts is still the primary location for their production.
The cranberry plant, a very dwarf shrub producing long slender creeping stems that root into the soil, is hardy to zone 2 and prefers a semi-boggy acidic soil in semi-shade. They actually grow best in a poor soil, richer soils result in extra foliage production at the expense of fruit. Harvest fresh, plump, deep red and firm berries after Labor Day and store in the refrigerator for several months or freeze on a cookie sheet and then transfer to a bag for storage. Berries can also be preserved by drying.
Fresh cranberries may be cooked with sugar to reduce the tartness or try adding a teaspoon of salt and only half the usual sugar. To balance their tartness, they can also be combined with other fruits such as oranges, apples, pineapple or pears. Dried berries add color and variety to favorite recipes for oatmeal, rice pudding, scones and muffins or can be mixed with roasted nuts for a delicious snack.
Cranberry plants dislike root disturbance,
so grow in pots until being
planted out in their permanent positions
CRAN-ROSEMARY NUT BARS: Combine 10Tbs butter, 1 1/4c flour, 2/3c brown sugar and 3/4tsp salt until crumbly. Pat into a lightly buttered 9x13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 12 mins. Cool slightly then sprinkle with 1c slivered almonds and 1c dried cranberries. Beat 3 eggs with 1c brown sugar then blend in 1tsp vanilla extract, 1/2tsp almond extract, the zest of one orange, 4Tbs minced fresh rosemary, 1/2tsp salt, 1 1/2tsp baking powder and 1/4c flour. Top the bars with the batter and bake for 20 mins. Cool and cut.
4-16oz cans whole berry cranberry sauce
1c brown sugar
1c chopped apple
1c slivered almonds
1c apple cider vinegar
2Tbs minced crystallized ginger
1 tsp allspice
Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 mins. Cool, place in jars and process in water bath for 10 mins. Makes a quick appetizer with gingersnaps and cream cheese
CRANBERRY-PECAN SCONES: Combine 2 c flour, 1/3 c sugar, 1tsp baking powder, 1/4tsp baking soda and 1/4tsp salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in 8Tbs butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 1/2c dried cranberries and 1/2c chopped pecans. Combine an egg and 1/2c sour cream or yogurt until well blended, and then add to dry ingredients until they are moistened. Knead on floured surface until dough holds together. Divide dough in half and pat out each into a 1/2 inch thick circle and cut into 6 wedges. Place on greased baking sheet, brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 mins or until golden brown.
VARIATION: Add 2tsp grated orange peel instead of pecans to mixture before moistening
ORANGE BUTTER: Beat 1/2c softened butter until light and fluffy, then stir in 2Tbs marmalade.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."