Who has ever seen fresh cranberries sold unbagged? Not many of us, although I did see some once, floating in a plastic sea of water at one of those upscale Fresh Market grocery stores, with a little scoop like you would use for a home aquarium.
There’s a good reason for that, a secret known only to cranberry growers: Bad cranberries don’t bounce. Bad cranberries don’t float. Bad cranberries sink. In fact, cranberry growers bounce their cranberries seven times over a four‑inch high barrier before packing. Imagine buying unbagged cranberries in the grocery store, with savvy shoppers chasing after red berries boomeranging all over the produce section!
Bagged fresh, good cranberries make the trip to market from September through December, with November being the peak month of production. Grown in the boggy regions of Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, this acidic species of Vaccinium macrocarpon has been produced commercially since the early nineteenth century. Before that, cranberries only grew wild.
Native Americans used tart wild cranberries as a preservative in pemmican, a long‑lasting early convenience food made of dried venison and fat. (See pemmican recipe in my post about blueberries.) Benzoic acid from the berries kept the meat from spoiling rapidly. It was also the native Americans who invented cranberry sauce, sweetening the mixture with honey or maple sugar. Traditionally used as a relish for game or poultry, cranberry sauce became a favorite food of the English settlers. In 1639, a John Josselyn recorded that, “The Indians and the English use them [cranberries] much, boyling them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat, and it is a delicious Sauce.”
Cranberry sauce still tastes delicious with meat, especially game and turkey. But forget commercially made cranberry sauces. For truly delicious cranberry sauce, you have to make it yourself. And there’s nothing easier. The naturally high pectin content of fresh cranberries, in combination with heat and sugar, thickens the sauce in minutes. All you have to do is throw a few ingredients together, stir, and relish the sauce made from the bouncing berry.
1 cup of fresh cranberries yields 44 calories, and provides significant amounts of pectin (fiber), vitamin C, and potassium. 1 cup of homemade cranberry sauce contains 493 calories, while 1 cup of commercial cranberry sauce has 404 calories. Folklore attributes medical prowess to cranberry juice in curing kidney stones and bladder infections.
SPICED CRANBERRY RELISH
Makes 1 ¼ cups
3/4 pound fresh cranberries, washed and drained
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. paprika
½ t. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
21 T. butter
Cook the cranberries with the vinegar and ½ cup of water in a covered medium‑size saucepan for 5 minutes or until soft and tender. Berries will burst and pop. Add brown sugar, spices, and salt. Simmer about 3 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken.
Stir in butter. Pour sauce into a clean canning jar and store in the refrigerator. Serve with turkey, duck, chicken, pork, ham, or game. Sauce keeps well for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator. [Or you may freeze it for use at Thanksgiving and Christmas.]
Makes 2 cups
6 medium‑size onions, cut in half lengthwise, sliced thin crosswise
½ cup sugar
4 T. cup unsalted butter
4 cloves of garlic, mashed and chopped fine
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 small bay leaf
½ t. dried crumbled rosemary
Pinch of salt
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and mix in well; cook mixture for about 10 minutes or until onions begin to brown. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute to prevent burning. Mix in the remaining ingredients and add ¼ cup water.
Cook the relish for 10‑15 minutes or until it thickens. Remove the bay leaf. Put relish into clean glass jars, cover, and chill in the refrigerator. Relish keeps well for one week. Serve with roasted or grilled meat and poultry.
SOUTHERN PECAN‑CRANBERRY RELISH
Makes 2 ½ ‑ 3 cups
2 cups sugar
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 T. grated orange peel
4 T. water
½ t. grated fresh ginger or 1/4 t. dried ground ginger
4 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup lightly toasted pecans, chopped
Mix all ingredients in a medium‑size saucepan, cover, and simmer over moderate heat until berries burst. Cook 1 more minute until mixture thickens. Stir in the pecans.
Pour into clean jars, cover, and chill. Serve with meat and poultry. Relish keeps for four days.
Makes 1 1/2‑2 cups
2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
Boil the cranberries in the water in a covered medium‑size saucepan. When berries begin to burst, add the sugar, and cook for 10‑15 more minutes. Stir occasionally to keep mixture from burning. Remove pan from heat.
Add the celery and raisins. Cool mixture for 15 minutes and add the horseradish. Pour sauce into clean jars and cover. Serve warm or chilled, with meat and poultry. Relish keeps well for 3‑4 days.
© 2008 C. Bertelsen