This week’s featured fruit is the mighty cranberry. While it is far from local (the closest cranberry bogs are in Oregon), it is one of the three commercially grown fruits that are native to the United States. The cranberry is a tiny fruit that packs a punch, and has various medicinal qualities. It is also a berry close to my heart, chosen as my “totem berry” when a group of friends and flatmates, also studying nutrition, formed the “Berry Fairies.”
The Berry Fairies is a healthful cooking club of sorts, but also a supportive circle of kindred spirits, in love with food. Together we visited the local farmers’ market, and developed healthful versions of sinful treats for our friends, which we served at potlucks our house hosted. Too much fun. Today Berry Fairies Blueberry, Blackberry, Huckleberry, and Boysenberry are scattered over the West coast, but we keep in touch, occasionally sending each other homemade treats in the mail, and convening for reunions.
Cranberries were first used by American Indians as fabric dye and medicine for arrow wounds, as well as food. They mainly used cranberries in pemmican – a combination of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and melted fat. Calling the berries Sassamanash, American Indians may have introduced cranberries to starving European settlers who incorporated them into traditional Thanksgiving feasts.
The name cranberry derives from “craneberry,” first named by early European settlers in America because its small, pink blossoms resemble the head of a crane. In 17th century New England cranberries were sometimes called “bearberries” as bears were often seen feeding on them. Settlers adopted the Native American uses for the fruit and found the berry a valuable bartering tool. American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy. 1
A common misconception about cranberry production is that their bogs remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry bogs are not flooded. Cranberries are harvested in the fall and early winter when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color. To harvest cranberries, the beds are flooded with six to eight inches of water above the vines. A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. Harvested cranberries float in the water and are corralled into a corner of the bed. 2
Raw cranberries are good sources of vitamin C, manganese, and fiber. They are high in heart healthy, anti-cancer, immune boosting phytonutrients. 3, 4
Research indicates cranberries may help fight urinary infections by inhibiting bacterial attachment to the bladder and urethra. 5
This week’s recipe is Fresh Cranberry Sauce. Unlike conventional cranberry sauce, this sauce contains raw cranberries, giving it a fresh vibrant flavor and preserving more of its nutrients. Raspberries and marmalade add sweetness and develop flavor. Walnuts are optional, but add a rich crunch. Enjoy with a holiday dinner, roast chicken, oatmeal, or by itself. For a raw variation, substitute marmalade with an orange or cherries.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 3 cups cranberry sauce
1 – 12 oz bag cranberries, with several berries reserved for garnish
4 – 6 Tablespoons sweet orange marmalade to taste
1 tangerine, with several segments reserved for garnish
1 cup frozen raspberries
Optional: 1/4 cup walnuts pieces
Optional: 1″ ginger root, peeled & grated
food processor or blender with wand
1. Set aside several cranberries and tangerine segments for garnish.
2. Pulse cranberries, raspberries, tangerines and optional ginger in food processor/blender in batches until chopped fine and empty into bowl.
3. Optional: Stir walnuts into chopped cranberry mixture.
4. Add marmalade to cranberry mixture until sweetened to taste.
5. Spoon cranberry sauce into serving bowl and decorate with whole cranberries and tangerine slices.
2. Roper TR, Vorsa N (1997). “Cranberry: Botany and Horticulture”. In Janick J. Horticultural Reviews. New York: Wiley. pp. 215–6.
4. Flavonoid composition over fruit development and maturation in American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait. Irina O. Vvedenskaya and Nicholi Vorsa, Plant Science, Volume 167, Issue 5, November 2004, Pages 1043-1054.
5. Jepson RG, Mihaljevic L, Craig J (2004). Jepson, Ruth. ed. “Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD001321.