What's In Season: Cranberries

What's In Season: Cranberries

Apart from the turkey itself, cranberries are probably the most iconic ingredient in any Thanksgiving dinner. What ends up on our holiday table will be decided by tradition, ethnic favorites, and sometimes a wish to do something different this year. But odds are that cranberries will be included.

It's my personal opinion cranberries are a Thanksgiving must-have because they provide rare relief when it comes to flavor and color. Think about how pale, white, and beige most Thanksgiving menus are: turkey, gravy, apples, potatoes, squash, pearl onions, etc. etc. Cranberry sauce adds a shock of tangy taste plus a zap of color on an otherwise bland table.

That color is a sign of cranberries' nutrition. Some call them one of nature's "super foods" and for good reason: they're full of antioxidants and vitamin C, plus traces of calcium, iron and other good things. With lots of fiber and no fat, a cup has only 51 calories. But they're also high in acidity -- only lemons and limes have more acid -- so we almost always add sugar to get that mouth-watering combo of tang and sweet.

Cranberries are the fruit of a shrub that grows in bogs in cooler climates. Massachusetts, especially Cape Cod, a place we associate with cranberries for reasons having to do with both Pilgrims and the Ocean Spray Company, is an ideal location. But so are Oregon, Washington, Michigan, parts of Canada, and other northern growing places. The berries are harvested and sold fresh in the fall but they're processed and sold year-round in juices, as dried fruit, and as canned products like the iconic jellied cranberry sauce.

The fruit is native to North America and like squash and tomatoes that now are found on the global table, cranberries were brought from the new world to Europe in the 19th century, becoming particularly popular in Russia and Nordic countries (also popular there are lingonberries which are related to cranberries, but not exactly the same).

Cooking With Cranberries

Cranberry Sauce.  If your favorite way to eat cranberries is in a sauce but you've never cooked your own, I have good news for you -- it's essentially fail-proof to make. That's because the berries contain a high level of pectin, a natural and harmless chemical that causes things to jell. (Pectin is a commonly used jelling agent in making jellies and jams and other foods.) Combining a bag of fresh cranberries with a little water or orange juice plus sugar, and heating it until the berries pop will automatically become cranberry sauce. The recipe that's printed on most plastic bags of fresh cranberries will not disappoint.

If you want to make a sauce with a bit more complexity, you can add a savory herb like minced rosemary, or some heat with tiny-diced jalapeno pepper, or citrus and toasted pecans as in our Cranberry Pecan Conserve.

Other ways to add cranberry flavor to your food and drink --

      1 oz. vodka
      1/2 oz. cranberry juice cocktail
      1/2 oz. triple sec or Cointreau (both are bitter orange-flavored liqueurs)
      1/2 oz. Rose's Lime Juice

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and serve in a chilled martini glass. As variations you can substitute lemon vodka for the regular and fresh lime juice for the Rose's Lime Juice. The cranberry juice is added mostly for color and what you're going for is a drink that is pale pink and a flavor that is sweet/tart.






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