Cranberry's are actually an evergreen shrub or vine. The fruit starts out white and turns a deep red as they ripen. The leading producer of cranberries is Wisconsin where half of the U.S. production of cranberries is harvested. The second largest U.S. producer is the State of Massachusetts, and they grow 28% of the total domestic production. The peak growing season for is from October to January, just in time for the holidays. The Native Americans were the first known people to use cranberries as food and probably taught the early settlers about them. Those two facts together may be how cranberries are considered traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas food.
The Indians made a dish called pemmican, that is a mixture of cranberries and venison or bear meat, but they also used cranberries for medicine and for dye. Cranberries are rather tart and not usually eaten raw. Instead they are used primarily as sauces, juice or sweetened dried cranberries.
When buying cranberries, you want to choose hard, shiny berries that are bright red. They will keep in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 days and they can be frozen for 2 to 3 months.
Cranberry sauce is one of the most common uses for cranberries, and it is easy to make, it is simply cranberries, boiling water and sugar. Incidentally, it takes about 1 pound of cranberries to equal 4 cups of fruit. Besides cranberry sauce, they are good sweetened and used as a topping for ice cream, cake or custard. They are also often used as a glaze for ham or chicken. Cranberries are extremely versatile and can be used in relish, in dressing or mixed with other fruits.
Cranberries have approximately 26 calories for a 3 1/2 ounce serving and are a great source of vitamin C and dietary fiber. Pioneer sea captains ate cranberries to prevent them from getting scurvy. They are also believed to help provide protection from bacterial and viral infections so cranberries are definitely good for you.
Cranberries are also a great addition to a gelatin salad, especially if you add apple or crushed pineapple along with some nuts. You can also chop us cranberries and use them in muffins in place of blueberries or cook them until the skins pop, run them through a sieve and used the pulp in cranberry bread.
Yes, cranberries are one of those things we connect with a pretty table spread with a large turkey or ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie, but they are useful for much more. With all the emphasis on food in the 21st century, cranberries have gained recognition as a "superfruit" because of their nutrient content and antioxidant qualities. So, this year, try some new cranberry recipes; or be different, freeze some and eat them in February or March instead of November and December.