Pucker up. They may be synonymous with the holiday season, but with loads of health benefits and a tangy taste that's great in baked goods, savory dishes, or by the glassful, cranberries are something to relish all year long.
An American Tradition
The pilgrims ate cranberries. They got the idea from the Native Americans, who used the rosy berries to preserve fish and meat, to make sauces and as medicine. Cranberries got their name because the flower and bud of the plant look like the head of a crane. They're also known as "bounce berries," because fresh ones bounce.
During the Civil War, Navy sailors were required to have a weekly ration of cranberries to prevent scurvy.
Today, 95 percent of the nation's cranberry crop is used to make juice. Cranberries are grown mainly in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. The berry beds produce for years and years. Indeed, there are families in New England who have been farming cranberries for multiple generations, or well over a century.
Cranberry juice has been proven to be beneficial for urinary tract health. Antioxidants called proanthocyanidins keep bad bacteria from clinging to the lining of the bladder and the urinary tract. Based on studies, a 10-ounce glass of cranberry juice each day seems to be the ticket.
Recent research has also uncovered that cranberries are rich in other antioxidants, which help the body fight cancer and heart disease.
Plus, cranberries are packed with vitamin C. A half-cup of berries provides 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of that important vitaminand only 25 calories. Cranberries are also high in fiber.
The cranberry harvest begins after Labor Day, so the berries are available in the market from September through December. They're usually sold already packaged. Look for firm, bright-colored berries. Avoid fruit that's withered or has brown spots.
Cranberries will keep for several months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer. Remarkably, long storage time doesn't diminish their flavor.
Don't forget about dried cranberries. They're great eaten by the handful. Click here for other nutritious snack ideas.
How to Use
To counter their tart flavor, team cranberries with other, sweeter fruit like apricots, apples or cherries. Use them when you're baking muffins, breads or pies for tummy-pleasing results.
John Ash, Fetzer Vineyards
Cranberry Nut Muffins
Mulled Cranberries and Spiced Cherries
Bill Wavrin, Rancho la Puerta, Baja, CA
Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries and Walnuts
Cranberry, Butternut and Roast Shallot Couscous
Jimmy Schmidt, The Rattlesnake Club, Detroit, MI
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Border Grill, Santa Monica, CA