A mere three days from now most of us will be waiting for the turkey ready to bake and making all the sides to go with it. There will be mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, salad, rolls, pies, and some funny looking red stuff. Oh yes, the cranberry sauce. What exactly is it and why do we eat it once a year?
I’d like to say we eat it because it’s good and it’s good for you, but maybe we should actually credit American Indians with the tradition, as they mixed cranberries with deer meat waaaay back in the day. They may have even shared some with the pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving Day.
The small, red, tart fruit is indeed very healthy. History notes that sailors used cranberries as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy and more recent studies suggest they promote gastrointestinal and oral health, raise the good HDL cholesterol, and may even help prevent cancer.
What cranberries don’t do is float in water, contrary to what a certain cranberry juice brand would have us believe based on their TV ads. Cranberries grow on low-running vines in sandy marshes and are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to North America. The other two being blueberries and Concord grapes.
During harvesting, the berry marshes are flooded, special equipment is then used to knock the berries off the vines, and then they float to the surface. Most of the world’s cranberries are grown on some 50,000 acres in the U.S. and Canada and are harvested in September and October. Perfect timing for fresh cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving!
The very first cranberries were harvested by Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall, who planted the first commercial beds in Dennis, Massachusetts back in 1816. Many of today’s cranberry bogs are more than 100 years old!
Each year, Americans eat about 400 million pounds of cranberries, 20 percent of which will be consumed over Thanksgiving. The fruit can be eaten both fresh and dried, and is popular in muffins, trail mixes, cereals, and salads. And then there’s the juice!
So what do you prefer? Fresh or canned? Whole berry canned or jellied? I prefer the whole berry canned but if you like that blob of gelled stuff, here’s a fun way to make it festive using cookie cutters:
Here are some other ideas for your Thanksgiving meal: (note: all recipes can also include chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts, but I don’t like them in recipes so have not included them.)
Festive Pineapple Cranberry Salad
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can crushed pineapple
2 pkg. raspberry flavored gelatin
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 apple, chopped
Drain oranges and pineapple. Add 3 cups cold water to juice and pour into saucepan. Bring to boil and remove from heat. Add dry gelatin and stir 2 minutes. Stir in cranberry sauce. Pour into large bowl and add pineapple, oranges, and apple. Refrigerate 1 ½ hours or until slightly thickened.
Three Ingredient Cranberry Relish
(Anthony Bourdain calls this, “Delicious and truly one of the easiest recipes in the world.”)
Wash 1 large orange under warm water. Dry and coarsely chop skin, flesh, and pith. Remove seeds. Combine orange and 12 oz. fresh cranberries in food processor. Pulse until mixture appears grainy. Transfer to bowl and fold in 1 cup sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Cranberry Nut Bread (my mom’s)
2 cups cranberries
2 T butter
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup and 2 T sugar
1 ¾ t baking powder
1 t salt
1 egg, well beaten
1/3 cup orange juice
Grated orange rind
1 t orange rind
¼ cup water
Cut cranberries in half. Melt and set aside butter. Sift together dry ingredients. Combine egg, orange juice, and water. Make well in dry ingredients and add liquids. Stir I butter. Add orange rind and cranberries. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Cranberry Hot Tea
1 48 oz. can cranberry juice cocktail
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 cup lemonade
1 cup pineapple juice
Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Serve warm with cinnamon stick garnish.
2 bottles cranberry juice
1 ½ bottles water (using juice bottle to measure)
2 cans frozen orange juice, thawed
Juice of 3 lemons or 9 T lemon juice
1 pkg. red hot candies
Whole cloves and sugar to taste
Put all ingredients in pot and heat on low until red hots are melted. Transfer to crock pot to keep warm.
Mix 1 part vodka with cranberry juice to taste in highball glass and fill with ice. Garnish with lime wedge.
Sea Breeze: add grapefruit juice
Bay Breeze: add pineapple juice
Cosmopolitan: add triple sec and serve in martini glass
Cranberry Kiss Cocktail
1.5 oz. cranberry vodka
2 oz. cranberry juice
1.5 oz. simple sugar
Lime wedges and mint leaves
Muddle 3 lime wedges and 8 mint leaves in a shaker. Add other ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with floating mint leaves.
Cranberry Salsa Dip
1 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries, rinsed
½ cup sugar
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lime, juiced
Pinch of salt
2 8 oz. blocks cream cheese, softened
Put all ingredients except cream cheese in food processor. Pulse until ingredients are chopped coarsely. Put in airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. After, spread softened cream cheese on serving plate and spread salsa over cream cheese. Serve at room temperature with crackers.