Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cranberries are tart, but can sweeten the whole holiday season

Posted on Nov. 12, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross

Food & Nutrition

What would the holidays be without food? Part of enjoying the holidays is the variety of foods that we only seem to enjoy this time of the year. One of those common holiday foods is the cranberry. Cranberries may be tart but they certainly sweeten the holiday season.

Cranberries are a nutrient-dense food that is good for you. Cranberries are low in calories, high in fiber and offer potassium and vitamin C. They are also a source of the phytochemical Ellagic Acid which may help combat cancer. So spooning an extra serving of cranberry sauce or relish on your plate during the holidays, especially at the expense of ham, stuffing, or gravy, is healthful as well as delicious. Cranberries have properties that protect our bodies from certain types of bacteria that can cause urinary tract infections, gum disease and stomach ulcers.

The cranberry is a true North American fruit that has had different names since its discovery. The Indians called them “ibimi” or “bitter berry,” and later, German and Dutch settlers came up with “crane berry” because the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane (bird). Over time the name was changed to cranberry. Another name you might call a cranberry is a bounce berry. This is a name you want to keep in mind when you are washing and sorting the berries. The air pocket within the little red berry causes it to bounce. When the berries first leave the packer, they all bounce. In fact, the berries pass over a bounce board separator. If they don’t bounce, they don’t leave as fresh cranberries.

When it comes to buying fresh cranberries, we are in the prime season. Most fresh cranberries are sold in 12-ounce plastic bags, yes they were once one pound bags and many of my recipes call for pound bags. Once you are ready to use the cranberries, sort through and pick out any mushy or discolored ones, then rinse. If you plan to cook them with sugar, keep in mind sugar toughens cranberry skins if added before they soften. Instead, cook them in the liquid called for in a recipe until they pop, which usually happens in about 5 minutes, then add the sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

When baking with frozen cranberries, don’t bother defrosting them first, just sort through them, rinse, drain, and simply mix the berries into the batter. Cranberries are easy to toss in the freezer and keep on hand for the rest of the year when cranberries are not available. You can freeze the berries right in their own bag, but I would place their bag in a freezer bag. When your recipe calls for chopped cranberries, some helpful hints would be to use a food processor for quick results. The 12-ounce bag will measure out to be 3 cups. Refrigerate leftover cranberry sauce for several days or freeze it in an airtight container for up to one year.

Dried cranberries have all the nutrients and phytochemicals of fresh cranberries and are available year round. Unlike fresh, dried cranberries are sweetened so they are delicious eaten all by themselves. They also make a superb addition to granola and other cereals, and can be baked into anything calling for raisins.

Besides the traditional cranberry sauce, this fruit also makes delicious bread puddings, chutneys, cobblers, glazes, pies and other items. It adds zest and flavor to salads, stuffing, cakes, muffins, quick breads and puddings. The naturally high acidity of the cranberry also makes it excellent for relishes and jellies. I encourage you to enjoy cranberries this holiday season; they are good for you and they taste good too! Here is a simple recipe for the cranberry salad I like to make:

1 bag cranberries

2 apples, washed and cored

2 oranges, washed, seeds removed

2 small boxes cranberry gelatin, (any red gelatin, sugar free or regular)

2 cups boiling water

1 cup cold water

1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained, juice reserved

Chop all fruit in food processor or grinder, add to large bowl. In separate bowl, add gelatin and boiling water, stirring for 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Add 1 cup reserved pineapple juice (add water to juice if necessary to equal one cup). Pour over fruit and stir. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email lienhart@purdue.edu.