What would the holiday season be without cranberries? Whether you make your own cranberry sauce or cranberry jelly from fresh cranberries or buy canned or frozen products, cranberries are readily available this time of year. .
According to folklore, cranberries were on the table of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Cranberries, blueberries and Concord grapes are the few fruits that are native to North America. Native Americans used cranberries for medicinal purposes, a dye for coloring clothing and blankets, and as an ingredient in some of their dishes.
When the cranberry plant is in bloom, its light pink blooms are said to resemble the head and neck of the sand hill crane. In earlier times, the red berries were known as “crane berries.” Cranberries originally grew wild from the Carolinas north through the Canadian Maritimes
Fresh cranberries can be found in the market from mid to late September through the end of December. Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. To freeze fresh cranberries, just keep the unopened bag of cranberries in the freezer.
When ready to use (fresh or frozen), sort through the berries and remove any bad berries, stems, leaves, or foreign matter. To sort berries, you also can empty the bag of berries into a basin of cold water. Debris and unripe berries will float to the top of the water.
Remove the debris and pour the berries into a colander to drain. Now you’re ready to use the tart berries in delicious sauce, salads, breads, or other treats.
Cranberries are a nutritious fruit. One cup of raw cranberries has approximately 50 calories; no fat, cholesterol, or sodium; and 12 grams (g) carbohydrate, 4 g dietary fiber, 67 milligrams (mg) potassium, and 13 mg of vitamin C. Cranberries also are a good source of phytochemicals including antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenols that can help protect against certain health problems like urinary tract infections, heart disease, and cancer.
Cranberries are very tart, so they need to be sweetened before eating. Cooking cranberries with other fruits like pears or apples can produce a sweeter finished product without having to use as much sugar.
Recipes for cranberry sauce and cranberry orange relish can be found on the package. Try the recipes using half the sugar called for in the recipe. If this is too tart, add more sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup, or sugar substitutes) a small amount at a time.
Making fresh cranberry sauce is easy to do. You may want to make it a day or two ahead so that it has a chance to cool, set up, and intensify the flavor. Once you’ve had fresh cranberry sauce, it’s hard to go back to the canned variety!
Other cranberry products are available in the market. Dried cranberries can be found pre-packaged or in bulk and may be substituted for raisins or other dried fruits in recipes. Check the Nutrition Facts food label for serving size and the nutritional profile. Usually sweeteners have been added, so the calorie content is high.
Check the labels of cranberry juice, cocktail, and drink products to find out how much actual juice is in the product selected. Unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate is available. Make your own beverage from the concentrate and sweeten to taste.
For your holiday menu here are a few quick-to-fix ideas using the festive, flavorful cranberry:
— Roll your favorite cheese ball in chopped cranberries and nuts. No time to make a cheese ball? Use a log of goat cheese and you’ve got an instant appetizer.
— When making your favorite quick bread recipe, add whole fresh, frozen or dried cranberries in place of other fruit.
— Dried cranberries are a natural addition to your favorite trail mix.
— Add dried or chopped fresh cranberries with apples or pears to your favorite greens for a colorful salad.
— Making a rice pilaf? Include dried cranberries for holiday color.
Source: University of Vermont, University of Colorado
Creamy Cranberry Salad
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 can (20 ounces) unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 medium apple, chopped
Sugar substitute, equal to ½ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 carton (8 ounces) frozen reduced-fat whipped topping, thawed
¼ cup chopped walnuts
In a large bowl, combine the cranberries, pineapple, marshmallows, apple, sugar substitute and salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, fold in whipped topping and walnuts.
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-862-4591.