Market Mondays – Cranberries

I think cranberry sauce is one of my favourite things about Thanksgiving dinner. Bright red and sweet, it’s like a little treat with all that meat and veg.

Cranberries are native to North America and are related to the blueberry. Used by First Nations people as food, medicine and dye, they were likely introduced to settlers in New England to become part of the first Thanksgiving feast. While cranberries grow wild, the ones we get have been cultivated for easy harvesting. Grown either in wetlands or areas with a shallow water table, the area is flooded when the cranberries are ripe and the berries are removed by machine. Since the berries float, this creates the picturesque cranberry bog we see in photos or on television ads.

This wet method of harvesting is usually done for berries destined to be processed into juice or jelly. Some berries are still dry-harvested (picked by hand or with gentle machinery that doesn’t harm the vines), and these are more likely to be the ones sold to consumers whole.

Ontario has a thriving cranberry industry in the northern part of the province around Bala, where there is a cranberry festival every October. However, most of the fresh cranberries found in supermarkets here in Toronto seem to come from either Massachusetts or Nova Scotia.

Like its cousin the blueberry, the cranberry is considered to be very high in anti-oxidants and has been linked to the prevention of urinary tract infections. There is also research linking cranberries to the promotion of gastrointestinal and oral health, the prevention of kidney stones, improvements in cholesterol levels, and aiding in stroke recovery.

Cranberries show up in supermarkets right before Thanksgiving and can usually be found until Christmas. Many farmers’ markets will have local cranberries available, so check there first, as they’ll be the freshest.

Select cranberries that are bright red in colour and which are firm enough to bounce (one of the cranberry’s nicknames is the “bounceberry”, which came about during harvesting when the berries would be bounced against a barrier; soft ones that did not bounce would be rejected). Cranberries will store in the refrigerator for several months and in the freezer for several years. Dried cranberries can also be added to salad dressings, granola or baked goods for a hit of colour and flavour. When baking with fresh cranberries, always cut them in half, as the berries are quite bitter on the inside, and in a cake or muffin will make for an unappealing flavour if bitten into.

Cranberry Sauce
There’s absolutely no reason to buy cranberry sauce from a can – homemade tastes so much better and is incredibly easy. This is a variation of the basic recipe from the back of the bag.

1 cup (200 g) sugar
juice of 1 large orange plus enough water to make 1 cup
grated rind of 1 large orange
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 cups (1 12-oz package) fresh or frozen cranberries

Wash and pick over cranberries, removing any that are discoloured. In a saucepan bring to a boil water, orange juice, grated orange rind, spices and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries, return to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries burst. It’s important that all the berries burst, as the pectin inside is what helps the sauce to gel. Help them along by pressing un-burst berries against the inside of the pot with the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat. Cool completely at room temperature and transfer to a sealed container. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools. Store in refrigerator.

Makes 2 1/4 cups.

Beets with Cranberries
I keep a container of cranberry sauce in the fridge year round – it goes amazingly well with beets.

1 bunch beets with greens
1/2 medium-sized sweet onion, sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 – 3 heaping tablespoons of whole berry cranberry sauce

Remove greens from beet root. Wash, peel and dice beet root. In a medium saucepan, boil beets until tender. (You can also roast the beet root if you prefer.)

Meanwhile wash and drain beet greens and set aside.

When beet root is fork tender, heat a heavy sauté pan, and add olive oil. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add beets greens and cook over medium heat until greens are wilted. Add balsamic vinegar, cranberry sauce, and drained, cooked beet root. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chocolate Dipped Cranberry Cookies
From Ocean Spray Cranberries

1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate bits, melted
1 1/4 cups chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease cookie sheets.

Using an electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to shortening mixture, mixing until a soft dough forms. Stir in cranberries.

Immediately drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

Dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate and then in nuts. Allow chocolate to dry completely.

Makes about 3 dozen.