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Cranberries: From Out Of The Bog...

Updated on June 29, 2010

Cranberries, a fruit native to the northern regions of Europe and America, are closely related to blueberries, but you'd never know it by looking at them. Sure, cranberries are red instead of blue, but that's just the beginning of the two berries' dissimilarities. Cranberries grow in bogs, they don't ripen until fall, and they're barely sweet. They even bounce! And they're not delicate at all; in the days before refrigeration, cranberries were a staple of sea voyages because they keep almost indefinitely.

In those same days, good cranberries were sorted from bad ones by dumping a load down a flight of stairs. The good, bouncy berries made it to the bottom, and the bad, squishy ones stayed on the stairs. Today, cranberries are sorted by using a more modern version of this principle.

Once they've been bounced around, cranberries come to you in 12 ounces plastic bags, enough to make cranberry sauce for about six people. If you don't have a convenient flight of stairs at home, just toss out any squishy or shriveled ones, and get down to the business of making Thanksgiving dinner.

To my palate, cranberries need sugar if you're going to eat (or drink) them straight, in their dried or juiced versions. When you cook with them, however, their tartness works for them - they add the zest of fruit juice without a lot of sweetness.

  • Reduce Madeira (or other fortified wine) with cranberries and sugar, and serve with roast medallions of pork tenderloin.
  • Use dried cranberries instead of raisins in bread pudding, fruit pie, banana bread, oatmeal cookies, and cobbler.
  • Stuff a chicken or turkey using a cornmeal-based dressing, cranberries, and chicken-apple sausage.
  • Make a cranberry chutney adding ginger and apples, pears, or quince.
  • Add dried cranberries and toasted pine nuts to couscous spiced with cloves and black pepper.
  • Make a dessert sauce by cooking cranberries in a mixture of cider, orange liqueur, and honey.
  • Cranberries work in almost any kind of fruit compote or sauce; they combine well with apples, figs, other berries, and kumquats.

The most common use for cranberries is, of course, as a sauce.

Cranberry Herb Sauce

An aromatic sauce of honey sweetened cranberries spiced with herbs and cooked in wine that enhances almost any meat dish.

1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 package of fresh cranberries
2-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 cups red wine
1/2 cup honey
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
2 whole bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
rosemary and ground pepper to taste

1. In a large pan, over medium heat, cook garlic and onions until soft. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce to low heat and simmer for approximately one hour, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half. Remove the bay leaves.

3. In a food processor or blender, puree the sauce and then strain. It should be as thick as a gravy.

4. Serve with pork, lamb or chicken. Any leftover sauce can be frozen.

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