Most British people think of cranberries
as little more than a condiment for their Christmas turkey,
but these tart little berries deserve more attention. The health
focus on cranberries of late has been on their apparent effect
in preventing urinary tract infections. Researchers are not
sure of the precise mechanism, but it may be that the tannins
in the berries (which contribute to their mouth puckering tartness)
help fight certain bacteria. Cranberries, like a number of other
berries, also contain ellagic acid, a cancer-fighting phytochemical.
Cranberries are too tart to eat raw or in
any unsweetened form, but they can be combined with sweeter
fruits, such as apples or pears, so that very little additional
sugar is needed. Dried cranberries (sometimes called craisins),
which are usually sweetened, can be substituted for raisins
or other dried fruits in compotes, cookies, and muffins.
The wild cranberries favoured by early settlers
in America have been largely replaced by cultivated varieties
that are larger, glossier, and have more flavour. Four major
varieties of cranberries are now grown commercially in the U.S.
They vary somewhat in size and colour, but all taste virtually
Only about 10% of the commercial crop is sold fresh; the rest
is used either in juice or cranberry sauce. Fresh cranberries
are available all year round, but are more plentiful beginning
in September and through to December. Frozen cranberries have
become increasingly available.
Cranberries are usually sold in plastic punnets , and since
they're firm, rather than soft like most other berries, they're
likely to be in good condition. Check them for firmness and
a good red colour; the punnet should contain a minimum of pale
berries and debris.
Cranberries store well, about two weeks in the refrigerator,
and a year in the freezer. You can put bags of cranberries in
the freezer with no further preparation, and can cook with the
frozen berries without thawing them.
It's easy to clean and pick over cranberries by placing them
in a basin of cold water; twigs, leaves, and unripe berries
are easy to spot because they float to the surface. The process
should be done quickly, though, you don't want to soak the berries.
Cook cranberries with a small amount of liquid until the berries
pop. Fold cooked berries into homemade apple sauce or compote,
or try adding them to sliced apples or pears to fill a pie.