Tart and beautiful, cranberries are a top cast member on the holiday table. They may not be the center of attention, but these crimson-colored "berries of the bog" add a bright burst of color and award-winning flavor.

Nutrition Highlights

  • These small ruby-red berries are a healthy find. A full cup of these berries, chopped, is 50 calories.
  • An excellent source of fiber in every 1 cup serving; you'll get about 5g, or 1/6 of the fiber amount needed daily.
  • A rich source of an essential antioxidant, vitamin C, which helps keep cells healthy from oxidation.

All-American History

This perennial vine is native to North America and plays an important part in history. They were a staple food for Native Americans, who named them "bitter berries" because of their tart flavor. The berries were combined with game and other ingredients to make pemmican, a nutritious jerky that traveled well and sustained them during the long winters. The remaining juice and skins were used to dye beautiful rugs and blankets.

Colonists discovered that this precious fruit stayed fresh for long periods of time and quickly uncovered its versatile culinary possibilities. They named them craneberries because their pink blossoms resembled the head and neck of the delicate, long-necked birds that feasted on these fruits. And, if you buy into the cranbery lore, the tiny berries grown in bogs were once thought to have special powers to calm nerves.

Today, cranberries grow in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Because they need a swamp-like environment, they grow in low commercial marshes or bogs, which are flooded at harvest time to make the ripe berries float. Many states that produce cranberries honor this tradition with cranberry festivals each fall.

Cran-trivia: A unique way to determine if a cranberry is ripe is to drop it on a hard floor. Berries at the peak of perfection bounce several inches in the air, while bruised or rotten fruits are duds, with little to no bounce.

What to Buy

Cranberries are packaged and sold fresh in the produce section of grocery stores. Available from September to December, they are a staple during the holiday season. One 12-ounce bag yields about 3 cups of whole or 2 ½ cups chopped cranberries.

Juiced, dried and frozen forms are available all year. A trip down grocery aisles shows how popular this tangy fruit really is. It's found in everything from juices, baked goods and cereals to salad dressings, snacks and more.

Storing Fresh Cranberries

  • Refrigerate fresh cranberries in their unopened original plastic bag for about 4 weeks.
  • For longer storage, freeze cranberries for up to a year and use as needed without having to thaw them.

Recipe and Decorative Uses

The first recipes using cranberries date back to the 18th century. Today they've gained popularity in restaurant dishes and trendy recipes. Fresh cranberries add a delicious tang to sauces, beverages, desserts and stuffings. Dried cranberries make great snacks and tasty additions to breads, muffins, bars, cookies and candies.

As lovely as these bright red berries are, it's no surprise they have tons of decorative uses as well. You may find them gracing a Christmas tree garland, or floating in a vase to add beauty to a cut flower arrangement.

Need a quick snack on the run? Try these apricot-cranberry granola bars to start your day off right.

Cooking and Baking

When cooking fresh cranberries, as in sauces, bring to a boil with water and sugar. (The packaging will provide proper amounts.) Without sweetening, these fruits are too tart for most people. Simmer over low heat about 10 minutes or only until the skins crack and allow the sugar to penetrate and sweeten the fruit.

Dried cranberries make a delicious snack, especially in a snack mix or with cereal, nuts and other dried fruit. They are a perfect substitute in any recipe calling for dried fruit, such as raisins or dates. Cranberries can also be added to recipes calling for fresh fruit, but reduce the sugar by about ¼, since the dried fruit is sweetened during processing.

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