It’s (almost) November and Thanksgiving is on the way so I knew this would be the perfect time to spotlight my favorite berry – the cranberry. Its role on the American Thanksgiving table simply in the form of cranberry sauce does it an injustice as cranberries are so much more.
Some of my favorite recipes like white chocolate cranberry pie, cranberry coconut bread, and maple sugared cranberries are just a taste of the glorious flavor of cranberries. So let’s explore everything we need to know about cranberries, and I guarantee you have a surprise or 2 ahead of you. In the meantime, watch those sales fliers and stock up on cranberries for the year ahead.
How Cranberries are Grown
Cranberries are a berry with a limited growing season. Regrettably I can’t just grow them in my backyard because I would love to have my very own cranberry bog. “Why yes, I have a cranberry bog in my backyard.” You have to admit it sounds super cool, but contrary to what many people imagine, cranberries aren’t actually grown floating in water. Rather, they are grown in well irrigated beds (bogs), then flooded for picking.
Cranberries grow on evergreen shrubs or trailing vines. The most popular growing areas in the United States are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin). Native Americans were the first North Americans to use them for food, but while New Jersey is most known for growing cranberries, they were actually farmed in the Cape Cod area first. Now that I’ve done the research, I wonder if I could grow them. After all, New Hampshire is just above Massachusetts….
There are 2 ways to harvest cranberries, both with their own pros and cons – wet harvesting and dry harvesting. Wet harvesting is where the beds are flooded and the cranberries float to the top of the water for easy harvesting. These berries are used for juices, sauces, dried cranberries, etc. Dry harvesting is when the berries are picked with a picker without flooding the beds (You can see how in a video I linked at the bottom of this post). It is more costly to harvest this way, but one of the benefits of dry harvest is that the berries are in better shape. These berries are sold fresh in stores for our delicious cranberry recipes.
Benefits of Cranberries
Cranberries have long been considered to have health benefits and can often be found in the form of supplements on store shelves for many years now. They have antioxidant properties and are a great source of Vitamins C, K, and E, along with a helping of dietary fiber. While they are a little too acidic for most of us to enjoy eating them alone, they add beautiful color, flavor, and nutrients to sweet and savory dishes. Now you have a great excuse to eat your favorite cranberry dessert – Vitamin C AND dietary fiber. We all need more fiber in our lives, right?
How to Choose Cranberries
So now you know where cranberries come from and why you need them. Do you know how to choose a good cranberry? Well, basically I go to the store check the bags to make sure there aren’t shriveled up berries or mushy berries with soft spots and buy them. But not quite. I also check to make sure they have a bright red to darker red color. One article I read said that cranberries are ripe when they bounce. I can’t quite imagine throwing a bag of cranberries on the floor in a store to see what happens. “But I need to see if they bounce to know they’re ripe.” Not thinking that will fly.
How to Preserve Cranberries
Rejoice! Preserving cranberries is incredibly simple and that’s such a blessing when you love cranberries as much as I do. I stock up when they are in stores for this limited window of time (October – December) and enjoy them all year long. This means we can also take advantage of sale prices we might find on them during this season and stock up for the year.
You can preserve cranberries using recipes for the canner but I find the easiest way to preserve them on their own is by throwing them in the freezer. You won’t believe how easy it is. Grab a bag of cranberries. Throw it in the freezer. The end. This is like the gateway to preserving food. It doesn’t get any easier than this. They say they last up to a year in the freezer but I have successfully kept frozen cranberries for 2 years without noticing any quality loss.
Of course, we can’t discuss cranberries without sharing a few recipes. These are some of my favorite cranberry recipes.
Chocolate Cranberry Granola (dried cranberries)
Clementine Cranberry Baked Oatmeal (dried or fresh)