Friday, November 14, 2014

Cranberries 101

Cranberries are Evergreen Dwarf Shrubs or Trailing Vines that can grow up to 7 feet long and up to 2 to 8 inches high. They are related to Billberries, Blueberries and Huckleberries and are found in acidic bogs (a water-logged depression filled with sphagnum moss -- peat moss -- and are so acidic and poor in available nitrogen that typical plants cannot grow there) in the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The Cranberry shrubs have dark pink flowers that have a distinct and “reflexed” petal that leaves the stylus and stamens fully exposed and pointing forward for pollunation by bees. The fruit of the berry is larger than the leaves and is intially white but turns a deep red when it is ripened. Major commercial production takes place in Masschusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin with beds historically located in wetlands. There are more than 100 varieties of Cranberries that are grown in North America. There is a common misconception that Cranberry beds are flooded year round when in fact they are not during the growing season. They are flooded in the Fall to facilitate harvest and again in the winter to protect from low temperatures. The most efficient harvesting method utilizes water. A field is flooded and a machine is used to stir up the water which loosens the berries. Berries, which have air-filled locules, float to the surface. They are then corralled and loaded on trucks. Flooded Cranberry bogs are regarded by locals as excellent skating rinks in winter. Harvest is September to November. 

Cranberries are one of a handful of fruits that are native to North America. The Native Americans were the first to use Cranberries as food but they also were used for medicinal purposes and as a dye. Did you know the name Cranberry came from “Craneberry?” The first European settlers in America saw the expanding flower, stem, calyx and petals and decided they resembled Cranes. Cranberries are a traditional side dish at Thanksgiving in both the United States and Canada. Pilgrims had Cranberries on the 1621 Thanksgiving table. The Indians showed the pilgrims how to collect and use this fruit thus Cranberries became important in colonial New England. Colonial women invented sauces and many new recipes. New England sailors sometimes took Cranberries onboard ships to prevent scurvy (the British used limes), because, as it turns out, Cranberries are rich in vitamin C. For more fun facts about Cranberries click here

To Store

The best way to sort and clean Cranberries is to place them in a colander in a bowl. Fill with cold water and give them a good swish around. The good Cranberries will float to the top and the mushy ones will sit just below. Feel around for the bad ones and remove. Drain and dry. Fresh Cranberries (unwashed or washed) keep well in the refrigerator for about a month. For longer storage Cranberries can be frozen. Click here to learn how to freeze Cranberries.

To Nourish

Cranberries are an excellent source of Fiber, Vitamin C & E, Manganese and Copper. They also are one of the most researched fruits due to their high phytonutrient and antioxidant content. Some health benefits associated with Cranberry consumption include urinary tract health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Click here for more about health research on Cranberries from the Cranberry Institute and for more health benefits click here. When purchasing Cranberries, chose those grown in the US rather than imported. Imported Cranberries pose the greatest pesticide risk per serving over any other fruit or vegetable. One of the most common toxins sprayed on Cranberry bogs across the country, chlorpyrifos, is known as an endocrine disruptor and is linked to serious developmental damage even in “safe” low-dose amounts. However, testing on domestic and imported Cranberries by the USDA found 13 different pesticide residues on Cranberries as reported by What's On My Food

To Prepare

Cranberries can be eaten raw but often the acidic taste can overwhelm the natural sweetness of the berry. They are a great addition to salads. In many food applications, sweeteners will be added to the recipe so be cautioned that commercially processed Cranberry products often have a high sugar content. Fresh Cranberries can be made into juices, jams and sauces. They can be added to all sorts of baked goods, like muffins, scones, cookies, and pies. For more savory dishes, try adding Cranberries to pilafs and stir fries by sautéing them in oil. Cranberries can be dried in a dehydrator. Click here for detailed instructions. For ten ideas about what to do with fresh Cranberries, read this article from Bon Appetit MagazineFor great Cranberry Sauce recipes check out Southern Living Magazine Thanksgiving Sides. If you have extra Cranberries and you want to tackle a fun project with your kids; here are instructions on how to make a fresh Cranberry Wreath in the Old Farmer's Almanac and for a great holiday gift idea try Cranberry Orange Scone mix from Food in Jars

To Try

Cranberry, Orange and Banana Smoothie
Holiday Mojito
Cranberry Sangria
Cranberry Marmalade with Dried Apricots
Cranberry Salsa
Cranberry Sauce Extraordinaire
Home Canned Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Fig Chutney
Cranberry Orange Mostarda
Cranberry Rangoons
Acorn Squash with Cranberry and Apple Stuffing
Fennel Orange with Fresh Cranberry and Apple Salad
Sweet Potato and Cranberry Hash
Steak with Cranberry Sauce
Baby Back Ribs with Cranberry BBQ Sauce
Cranberry Braised Pork Stuffed Peppers with Pickled Onions and Crema
Turkey Burgers with Cranberry Relish
Herbed Turkey Meatballs
Curried Chicken with Fresh and Dried Cranberries
Chicken Breasts with Cranberry Agrodolce
Cranberry and Lime Leaf Drunken Chicken
Ginger Cranberry and Leek Glazed Salmon
Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup
Silver Palate Cranberry Bread
Cranberry Orange Brioche Rolls
Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones
Homemade Cranberry Ice Cream
Creamy Pumpkin Pie with Poached Cranberries
Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake
Cranberry and Apple Cake
Upside Down Cranberry Cake
Cranberry Pound Cake

To Use

Generations of gardeners have relied on the classic technique of dehydrating to preserve the fresh flavors of the season's harvest. Whether you grow your own produce or purchase it from the farmer’s market or CSA, the Weston Dehydrator makes it easy to dry your favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs. (Williams-Sonoma, $124.95)