Every year as the calendar
approaches November, plastic bags full of bright red berries begin to
appear on grocer's shelves. Equally true, is that once December draws to a
close, these red berries will once again disappear. While some
fresh fruits, like apples, enjoy year round popularity others, like cranberries,
seem to be associated mainly with a season or holiday. Cranberries' ties
to Thanksgiving date back to the its beginnings when they were served
alongside the wild turkey. American Indians introduced the earliest
settlers to this small, hard, smooth-skinned, shiny red, round to oval-shaped
wild berry that is also known by so many names.
The Indians used the cranberry as both a food and a medicine.
Sailors as well as settlers traveling westward used cranberries, full of Vitamin
C, as a way to ward off scurvy. On long sea voyages, to keep the
cranberries fresh, the sailors would store the berries in barrels full of
water. Besides the Concord grape
and blueberry, the cranberry is one of three fruits that are native to America. It is the fruit
of a small shrub with trailing vines from genus Vaccinium that likes cold
climates. It grows best in poor acid soil in flooded areas called bogs or
on moors or mountainsides. Although grown throughout the world, Northern
Europe and North America are best known for the cranberry. In North
America, cultivated cranberries are grown mainly in
Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon but can be found growing wild in
bogs from Nova Scotia to North Carolina and westward to Michigan over to the
west coasts of Oregon and Washington. Cultivating cranberries
started in the early 1800s and it took many years of trial and error to discover
the best techniques. Once painstakingly harvested by hand,
machine methods were eventually developed to enable more cranberries to be grown
with less effort. Processing of the berries involved finding
an efficient method for separating the good cranberries from the bad. As
good cranberries bounce and bad ones don't, a mechanical system was devised for
sorting that incorporated this unusual characteristic. Before 1960 most
cranberries were sold either fresh or canned (whole berry or jellied). It wasn't until
the 1960s that the demand for cranberries started to exceed supply. This is when Ocean Spray introduced
Juice Cocktail. Its instant success led to other
fruit combinations being developed like Cran-Raspberry. So popular are these drinks that most grown today are processed for fruit drinks. The
cranberry's sour flavor means it's never eaten raw. Sugar
is needed to temper its flavor.
is an old Latin name for cranberry, coming from 'vacca' meaning cow,
so named because cows liked to eat the berries (hence the name Cowberry).
Other names for the Cranberry are: Craneberry
so named probably because cranes are found in the cranberry bogs eating
the berries. Bounceberry
is so named because ripe cranberries bounce. Bearberry
comes from the fact that the berries were eaten by bears. Lingonberry
get its orgins from 'lingon' which is Swedish for cowberry.
are almost always sold in 12 ounce (340 grams) plastic bags = 3
cups whole or 2 1/2 cups finely chopped.
Look for berries that are
firm, plump, shiny, and evenly colored (light to dark red). Avoid soft,
discolored (white or green ones are under ripe) or shriveled cranberries.
Remove stems and wash just before using. When cooking cranberries they are
done when they "pop". If you cook them too long they will taste bitter and
turn to mush. Cranberries are harvested
in the fall from early September through late October. They can be found in the produce section of grocery stores. Frozen cranberries can usually be found year round. Because cranberries contain benzoic acid, a natural preservative, they can be
stored naturally for up to 2 months in the refrigerator or up to one year
do not need to defrost berries before using. Cranberries are used in both
sweet and savory dishes. Commonly used in desserts, as well as confections, sauces,
compotes, chutneys, and jellies. Their tart flavor is enhanced when
combined with sweet ingredients or other fruits like apples.
are used in both sweet and savory dishes. To re-hydrate dried
cranberries cover with a hot liquid (water, liqueur, etc.), cover and
let stand for 20-30 minutes. Drain.