All About Them,
Including Cooking Tips and Recipes
The term “As American as apple pie” should probably be changed to “As American as cranberries” because cranberries are one of the three fruits native to North America (along with blueberries and Concord grapes.) As the Ocean Spray cranberry people say, “They didn’t come over on the Mayflower, they were already here.”
Berries of various kinds have grown wild in temperate climates for centuries. North American Indians mixed crushed cranberries with dried deer meat and fat to make pemmican, a preserved food that would keep for months. Pilgrims thought the blossoms of cranberries looked liked the heads of cranes and dubbed them “crane berries,” which eventually became “cranberries.” Commercial cultivation of cranberries began in the early 19th century when Henry Hall of Dennis, Mass. noticed how windswept sand on his cranberry plants seemed to spur growth.
How They’re Grown
Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not grown in water. They grow, instead, on vines in beds – called bogs or marshes – layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. Though cranberries require a special set of growing conditions – acid soil, plenty of fresh water and a long growing season – vines are hearty and have been known to last as long as 150 years.
Most of the world’s cranberries are grown on 30,000 acres of wetlands and coastal uplands in five states and another 4,000 acres in Canada, mainly British Columbia. The leading cranberry producing states, in descending order of size are Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. There are over 100 different cranberry varieties but there are four major commercial varieties.
Cranberries begin to hit the market in late September and continue into December.
Selection, Handling and Storage
Cranberries, usually found in sealed plastic bags, should be checked for uniform size, good deep red color and as little debris or withered fruit as possible. Don’t wash cranberries (or any berries, for that matter) until you’re ready to eat them or use them in a recipe. They’ll turn moldy and mushy if washed and stored. Cranberries freeze beautifully and do not need to be defrosted before cooking. The standard 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries yields about 3 cups whole berries, 2-1/2 cups chopped.
A cup of raw cranberries weighs about 100 grams (3.5 ounces) and contains 46 calories. However, that figure triples when sugar is added to make them palatable. That raw serving amount also contains about 11 grams of carbohydrates, just under a gram of fat, about .5 grams of protein, about 1.5 grams of dietary fiber and 18 % of the RDA for vitamin C. In addition to their antibiotic properties, particularly as they pertain to urinary and bladder infections, cranberries also act as an antiviral agent.
The cranberry is perhaps the most accommodating fruit when it comes to seasonings. It almost craves to be tossed one way or the other with whatever spices, liqueurs or sweeteners suit your fancy. Though the traditional sweetener is sugar, there’s no reason why you can’t use honey or brown sugar. (This year I’m using a stevia-brown sugar mix to keep the calories and sugar down.)
By using preserves such as marmalade, you add flavoring and sweetening at the same time. Citrus in general, and orange and lemon in particular, go well with cranberries. So do nuts such as pecans, walnuts and almonds.
Ginger in all its forms – but especially candied or crystallized – is superb with cranberries. As for liquids, try bourbon, rum, orange juice and orange liqueurs. For a special kick, try some hot peppers in your cranberry sauce, especially if it is going to be used with some Southwestern dish. (And maybe a splash of tequila!)
And remember, cranberries don’t have to be cooked. Fresh (not frozen) cranberries can be ground into a relish with apples, oranges, or lemons and dates, as in the recipe below.
In addition to its affinity for so many flavorings, the cranberry blends well with most fall fruits.
- 2 pounds firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 3/8-inch slices
- 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
- 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Butter-flavor cooking spray
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons chilled butter cut into small pieces
- 7 to 8 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
- Low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional)
1) Combine pears, cranberries, vinegar, 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, ginger and cornstarch in a bowl. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with butter-flavor spray and spread the fruit evenly inside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Put flour, baking powder, salt and remaining granulated sugar in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with a large fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball.
3) Put the dough between two pieces of lightly floured waxed paper and roll out to a size just large enough to cover the baking dish. Peel off the waxed paper and top fruit with dough. Seal the edges with a scalloped shape if desired. Cut 4 or 5 vents into the dough.
4) Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and juices bubble up freely. Serve warm with, if desired, low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Serves 6.
CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH AMARETTO LIQUEUR
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup amaretto liqueur
- 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
- Juice of 1 orange, about cup
- 1 tablespoon orange zest, cut julienne
- 3 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
1) Bring sugar, water, and amaretto to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add cranberries, stir, and return to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until cranberries pop.
2) Remove from heat, add orange juice and zest, and cool. Just before serving, fold in almonds.
Makes 4 servings.
DATE AND CRANBERRY RELISH
- 1/2 pound fresh cranberries
- 12 medium dates, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 lemon, seeded and diced
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- Pinch cayenne pepper
1) Put cranberries, dates and lemon in a food processor and process until well combined but not totally smooth.
2) Combine sugar, vinegar and cayenne. Add to mixture and pulse a few times. Chill an hour before serving. Serves 4.
QUINCE PANDOWDY WITH APPLES AND CRANBERRIES
Pandowdies are an old New England variation on deep-dish pies and cobblers, originally served for breakfast – which I think is still a good idea. The word pandowdy comes from “dowdying,” meaning breaking the crust up into pieces before serving.
- 4 cups peeled and sliced quince
- 3 cups peeled and sliced tart apples
- 1 1/2 cups cranberries
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup spicy orange marmalade
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
- Butter-flavor spray
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup plus tablespoon granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
- About 1/2 cup chilled low-fat buttermilk plus a few tablespoons 1/4
- teaspoon cinnamon Low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional)
1) Put quince, apples and cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Mix orange juice in a small bowl. Add to fruit and mix well.
2) Combine brown sugar and tapioca in a small bowl. Pour over fruit and mix well. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3) Spray a 2-quart gratin or baking dish with butter-flavor spray. Pour fruit mixture into the pan and spread out evenly.
4) Put flour, baking powder, salt and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with a large fork or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
5) Cover a cutting board with plastic wrap, pulled tightly and tucked under the board. Dust with flour, put the dough in the middle, dust with a little more flour and flatten slightly. Cover with another sheet of plastic wrap tightly drawn and tucked under the cutting board. Roll out dough just large enough to fit inside the baking dish. Peel off plastic wrap and top fruit with dough. Cut 4 or 5 vents into the dough. Brush the crust with the remaining buttermilk. Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the crust.
6) Bake 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and juices bubble up freely. Remove and cut through the crust with a large serving fork or spatula creating 2-inch pieces (they should be irregular for that homey touch). Then push the pieces of crust into the fruit with the back of the spatula. Bake another 10 minutes. Serve warm with, if desired, low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Serves 6.