While a lot of people only really think about cranberries once a year – Thanksgiving, we see you, and we’re excited – October is actually National Cranberry Month. From fresh to frozen to dried (and even that weirdly gelatinous stuff that you find in the can), cranberries are a fruit you can (and should) use year-round. Drink it as juice in the morning, add some dried bits to your salads and savor the boggy taste!
Yes, boggy, because that’s where cranberries grow. While the word “bog” can sound a little unappetizing, it just means it’s a freshwater wetland that accumulates peat (a deposit of dead plant material, usually mosses). In southeastern Massachusetts, there are over 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs. According to the Massachusetts Cranberries website, the berries can only grow and survive under a special combination of factors: acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply and a growing season that extends from April to November. They grow on trailing vines, sort of like strawberries, and way back in the early 1800s Henry Hall, a veteran of the Revolutionary War who lived in Dennis, MA, noticed that sand blown in from nearby dunes helped those vines grow faster. Today, growers spread an inch or two of sand on their bogs occasionally to help the vines grow and to slow the growth of weeds and insects.
These days, cranberries are grown in the northern parts of the U.S., but especially Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington.
The health benefits of cranberries are where it’s at. Current research indicates that approximately 10 ounces of cranberry juice cocktail (or 1.5 cups fresh or frozen berries, one ounce dried berries or a half-cup of cranberry sauce) is needed daily to achieve the bacteria-blocking benefits that ward off UTIs, ulcers and gum disease. They are fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free and a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
If you want to try fresh cranberries, choose ones that are full, plump, firm and dark red or yellowish-red. Fresh, they can be stored in the fridge for three to four weeks. (Also, check the source for fresh cranberries – although we have a lot of growers here in North America, they are also commercially grown in Chile. Try to shop local!)
Interested in trying something a little different? Check out this recipe for Cranberry BBQ sauce, courtesy of U.S. Cranberries:
Cranberry BBQ sauce (8 servings)
A spicy-sweet condiment delicious on grilled vegetables, lean meats or poultry.
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup minced yellow onions
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp chili powder
1 ½ tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ cups cranberry sauce
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp dark molasses
¼ – ½ cup water, if needed
In a sauce pan, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onions and sauté 2 minutes.
Mix in garlic, mustard and chili powder and continue cooking 1 minute.
Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 more minute.
Add cranberry sauce, vinegar and molasses and bring to a simmer, whisking often until mixture becomes smooth.
Lower heat and simmer 15 – 20 minutes or until mixture reduces and thickens. Add water to mixture if it gets too thick.
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Place in a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Reheat before using.