What’s the best way to use cranberries?

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross writes about cranberries.
Posted on Nov. 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

When I write about or present programs on healthy eating, I encourage you to eat foods of color and/or to eat a rainbow of foods. The fall season is one of the best times of the year to naturally have so many locally grown foods of colors to eat. There are all the wonderful apples, green and red cabbage, and the many varieties of squash. These foods alone present unlimited possibilities of dishes that you can prepare. One fall and holiday food that adds a lot of color that is not grown in Indiana is the cranberry.

Thanks to nutrition research, the hard work of growers, marketing, and more ways to enjoy the cranberry, we can all enjoy them throughout the year. I know for our family that the holidays mean it is time to be cooking with cranberries. The cranberries of today are relatives of the original ones.

The cranberry is on holiday menus because according to legend, the cranberry was growing on the wetlands before the Indians arrived. The cranberry is a true North American fruit. Medicine men used the reddish little berry for medicinal purposes. Native Americans mixed deer meat and mashed cranberries to make pemmican, an early convenience food that kept for long periods of time. The high acid in the cranberry helped keep this mixture safe for consumption.

According to folklore, the cranberry was also used as part of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Many families have special foods that are part of their Thanksgiving meal tradition. I know everyone talks about the turkey, when it comes to meat but let’s not forget the sweet potatoes which we should eat several time a week all year round. Then there is cranberry salad, and all the other dishes made to accompany them: stuffing, homemade dinner rolls and the desserts such as pumpkin pie and pecan pie.

Cranberries have had different names since their discovery. The Indians called them “ibimi” or “bitter berry,” “sassamanesh,” and “atoqua.” Later, German and Dutch settlers came up with “crane berry” because the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane (bird). When the vines bloom in the late spring, the light pink flower petals twist back, resembling the head and bill of a crane. 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 inside the little red berries causes them 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 you are rinsing and sorting the cranberries be sure to discard any discolored or shriveled ones.

Besides the traditional cranberry sauce, this fruit also makes delicious bread puddings, chutneys, cobblers, glazes, pies and other items. Because of their extreme tartness, cranberries are best when combined with other fruits such as apples, crushed pineapple or dried apricots. The naturally high acidity of the cranberry makes it excellent for relishes and jellies. It adds zest and flavor to salads, stuffing, cakes, muffins, quick breads and puddings.

Fresh cranberries can be stored in unopened plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to two months. To freeze fresh cranberries, sort through them, discard bad ones and freeze in freezer bags or containers.

One of the most popular ways many of you are eating cranberries is sweetened and dried, called cranraisins or most recently, craisins. I am sure the American Indians and settlers ate them. Cranraisins can be used like raisins in salads, baked goods or as snacks. Fresh cranberries are tasty when combined with raisins, mincemeat and orange juice concentrate for a pie. I encourage you to enjoy cranberries — they are good for you and they taste good too.

This is a tasty fresh cranberry salad we make every year. Here is what you will need:

2 (12-ounce) bags of fresh cranberries

2 cups of apples with the peel on, chopped or shredded

2 oranges with peel on, chopped or shredded (yes this is correct, you leave the peel on)

1 cup of crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)

2 small packages of cranberry or raspberry flavored gelatin

2 cups of boiling water

1 cup cold water or use the pineapple juice (if you do not have enough juice to make one cup, add water to it)

Rinse and sort the cranberries and chop them, then rinse and chop or shredded the apples and oranges; remember to leave the peel on. A food processor is a faster way to do this or if you have one of the food grinders with the various blades it works too. Put all of the shredded food in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl add the gelatin; add the boiling water and stir until dissolved, then add the cold water or the pineapple juice. Next pour this liquid over the shredded fruits and stir until all is mixed. Place in a container and refrigerate. This salad is very tasty with holiday meals and especially good on that famous turkey sandwich. Enjoy.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Contact her at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.

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