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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cranberries


 

Cranberries:

Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines.  They can be found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler regions of the northern hemisphere.  The cranberry is a glossy, scarlet red, very tart berry.  It is related to bilberries, blueberries and huckleberries.   The name cranberry derives from "craneberry" first named by early European settlers in America  who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petal resemble the neck, head and bill of a crane.  They were also called "bounceberries" because the ripe ones bounce.  Native North Americans were the first to use cranberries as a food.  Algonquian Indians called the red berries "Sassamanash" and may have introduced cranberries to starving English settlers who incorporated them into their Thanksgiving feasts. 
 
About 95% of harvested cranberries are processed into products such as juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries.   The remainder are sold fresh.  Usually cranberries as fruit are cooked into a compote or jelly known as cranberry sauce.  The berry is also used in baking muffins, scones, cakes, and bread.  Cranberries are normally considered too sharp to be eaten plain and raw. 
 
Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color.  This is usually from September through the first part of November or from Labor Day to Halloween.   During harvesting the cranberry beds are flooded with 6 - 8 inches of water above the vines.  A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines.  Harvested berries float in the water and can be corralled into the corner of the bed and conveyed or pumped from the bed.   Cranberries are important crops in Massachusetts and New Jersey and are also cultivated in Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Quebec.                        
 
One of the tools in my paternal grandmother's kitchen was a sieve she used to strain cranberries for cranberry sauce and also tomatoes for tomato sauce. It was a cone shaped strainer that had four legs attached to it so it could be placed over a bowl. It had a heavy wooden pestle to  crush and force through whatever was being strained.  I can see that thing in my mind like it was just a few weeks ago, but it has been many, many years ago.   One Thanksgiving as dinner was being served someone noticed there was no cranberry sauce.  We asked, "Is there any cranberry sauce?"  Grandma said, " Oh, I must have forgotten it."   No one could believe it. No cranberry sauce?  Grandma disappeared into the kitchen  and soon returned with a big smile and a big bowl of her homemade cranberry sauce.  That memory has stayed with me all these years.
 
Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese, and a good source of vitamins E and K.   Raw cranberries are a source of polyphenol anti-oxidants, phytochemicals under research for possible benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system and as anti-cancer agents.  Cranberry juice contains material that might inhibit the formation of plaque that causes tooth decay.  Cranberry tannins may prevent recurring urinary tract infections in women, but there is little evidence of the efficacy of treating urinary tract infections with cranberry juice.   For the cardiovascular system and for many parts of the digestive tract (including the mouth, gums, stomach, and colon) cranberries have been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits.   The phytonutrients in cranberry  are especially effective against our risk of unwanted inflammation.  In the case of our gums the anti-inflammatory properties of cranberry can help lower excessive levels of inflammation around our gums that can lead to damage of the tissues that support our teeth. 
 
Choose  fresh plump cranberries  that are deep red in color and firm to the touch.  Firmness is a primary indicator of quality.  You will find fresh cranberries usually in 12 ounce packages rather than loose.  Cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 20 days.  Before storing discard any soft, discolored, pitted, or shriveled fruit.   Spread cranberries on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for a couple of hours.  Once frozen they can be kept for several years, but once defrosted, use immediately. 
 
So........Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.
 

Simple but good:

Cranberry Bread:
 
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg well beaten
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts
 
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.
In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and oil.  Stir in orange juice, egg, and orange zest.  Mix until well combined.  Fold in cranberries and nuts.  Spoon into the greased pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool and remove from pan.