Photo by Henk van der Steege on Unsplash
Okay, Peeps – Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And while most of us are obsessing over cooking the perfect turkey or whether to serve both mashed and sweet potatoes, there’s a dark horse in this meal, waiting patiently to take its rightful place at the adult table. I’m talking about cranberries – a punchy little fruit with a juicy history, loads of flavor, and even a nod from John Lennon at the end of Strawberry Fields. So, forget the bird and save the spuds for another day. Let’s focus on the mind bog-gling awesomeness of cranberries.
Nature’s other candy
Now, for those of you who associate cranberries with either the Irish band (although I do love Zombie) or the gelatinous, alien-like substance in a can you buy on a last-minute grocery run, I forgive you. The fact is cranberries just might be nature’s most perfect creation. Why you ask? Well, here’s some surprising facts about these little crimson gems:
Cranberries are rich in nutrients
Besides being delicious and oh so pretty, cranberries pack quite a nutritional punch. They have a specific type of polyphenol known as proanthocyanidins (try saying that five times fast), which are known to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause infections like UTIs. Plus, they’re good for the old ticker, possess powerful antioxidants, and are rich in vitamin C. So, eat up. You’ll thank yourself later.
Cranberries do not grow in water
Despite the popular belief perpetuated by the Ocean Spray commercials of yore, cranberries do not, I repeat, do not grow in water. They grow on low-lying vines in bogs and marshes. Their stems can grow up to six feet long and are planted in beds layered with gravel and clay to prevent anything nasty leaching into the groundwater. Cranberry farmers add sand to the bogs every few years to facilitate growth and prevent insects or weeds from damaging the stems. To harvest the fruit, farmers flood the bogs with water which dislodges the berries from the vines. Because they have tiny air pockets inside, the berries float to the surface of the water for easy collection. The majority of the fruit is harvested in October. At the end of the month, growers begin off-season maintenance to prepare for next year’s harvest. And of course, we get to enjoy the fruits of their labor (see what I did there?) during the holidays.
Cranberries are indigenous to North America
Yep, you read that right. In fact, cranberries might be one of the only foods that were actually served at the first Thanksgiving. The plants can be found along the northern portion of the United States from Maine to Wisconsin. Although the people of the First Nations did not cultivate the cranberry plant – it was called “sasemineash” by the Narragansett tribe. They gathered the fruit and used it in various dishes including pemmican, a mixture of dried meat or fish that’s shaped into a cake then dried in the sun. Cranberries were also used as remedies, teas, and dyes.
Cranberries are good for your oral health
Move over Crest White Strips, there’s a new way to brighten those pearly whites. Cranberries support dental health in a number of ways. When bacteria bind together in the mouth, it creates plaque. The nutrients in cranberries actually prevent the bacteria from sticking together. Studies show the cranberry juice can reduce oral plaque by up to 95 percent as well as reduce gum disease. Now that’s something to smile about.
Well, there you have it, folks. Almost everything you need to know about one of nature’s superfoods. Now go forth and impress your drunk friends or judgmental relatives when you gather around the Zoom call or at your socially distanced Thanksgiving feast.
Oh, and for all you Beatles purists – it’s cranberry sauce, not I buried Paul.
*Full disclosure – of all the cranberry sauce/relish recipes I’ve made over the years, including ones I’ve developed, this one from Williams Sonoma is my absolute favorite. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →
Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce
2 cups water
1 apple – I use granny smith but make sure it’s on the tart side
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground ginger – this is not one of the original ingredients, but I find it adds another dimension of flavor
- Juice the orange and set aside. Remove and discard the membrane from inside the rind and cut up the rind into a small dice.
- In a small saucepan, combine the rind and the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain the rind and set aside.
- Peel, core, and cut the apple into bite sized pieces. Place apple in a saucepan.
- Wash and sort the cranberries and add to the apple along with the orange juice, orange rind, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pan.
- Simmer the cranberries for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens, the cranberries burst, and the apple is tender.
- Remove from heat and cool.
- Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.
The longer the flavors have to meld, the tastier it is.