CRANBERRIES – WHEN THEY’RE RIPE, THEY BOUNCE

Cranberries bounce when they’re ripe, and some called them bounceberries.”  Their blossom resembles the neck of a sand hill crane,   thus another name, “crane-berries.” Gradually, this word became “cranberry,” the name we use today. These berries, blueberries and Concord grapes are North America’s only true native fruits. This is easy to understand, for many cranberry vines produce for up to 150 years. This curious, ruby-red berry straight from the vine is so tart only wild bears enjoy them!

Native Americans were quite familiar with cranberries when the Pilgrims arrived in North America. They made good use of the benzoic acid in the berries to preserve meats. They also crushed the berries for red blanket dye and used the substance to treat wounds and nervous disorders. English sailors soon used cranberries for their anti-scurvy properties along with their salt pork and crackers as sea rations. On one occasion in 1677, the colonists sent a large amount of cranberries and Indian corn, along with 3,000 codfish to King Charles II in England to assuage his royal wrath toward colonists for perceived transgressions.

Domestic cultivation of cranberries began in North America around 1810, shortly after a Captain Henry Hall, of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, noticed the wild cranberries grew better with sand packed up around the vines. He began transplanting vines, fencing them, and spreading sand over them himself. Others copied his technique, and the number of area growers grew steadily from then on.

Cranberry bogs, which are peat-layered beds, with sand, gravel and clay, were originally created by glacial deposits in New England, some parts of Canada and in the Northwestern United States. This eco-combination supports many  rare animal and plant species. Red-bellied turtles, Plymouth gentian, red root, water lilies and wild orchards thrive there. So do otters, great blue herons, wood ducks, osprey, foxes and deer. Many growers open their bogs to nature loving visitors during certain parts of the year.

Contrary to popular belief, bogs are not flooded most of the year.  When berries are harvested for manufacturing, or crushing, the bogs are flooded and the floating berries skimmed off mechanically. To gather whole berries, growers dry-harvest them in what is termed a well-practiced art, which is far less mechanical.

It’s high cranberry-eating season  around November each year. They’re in — in  muffins, breads,  cakes, cookies, chocolates, salads, compotes, granolas, as well as in the  looked-for holiday sauces. Currently, 1,500 growers have 40,000 acres under cultivation in the U.S. and Canada producing about 575 million pounds of cranberries, up 6 percent over last year. Some newer cranberry uses are in   salsas, soups, smoothies, fruit butters, chutneys, fruited Bries, beer, wine and mixed drinks.

We have been able to buy fresh berries each fall. Sweetened, canned jellied berries, sweetened whole-berry sauce and frozen berries are available year ‘round. Sweetened, dried, more portable cranberries, however, have not been available until a few years ago. Stainless cranberries travel in lunch bags and trail mixes under general snacking conditions. They now go wherever raisins have gone.

Not until recently have 100 percent, pure cranberry/fruit juice beverages been available to us. This is good news for consumers and came about thanks to competition between large processors. Be sure and read the label. Where sugared and watered juices were the norm, now it is mixed with other fruits for natural sweetness. Now you’ll find cranberry  paired these days with mango, Georgia peaches, Key Limes, Granny Smith apples, tangerines, strawberries, grapes, raspberries, cherries and blackberries.

An eight-oz. serving of cranberry/fruit juice supplies 130 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin C. The juice is also a source of calcium, plus vitamins A and E.

Cranberries are a proven aid in fighting urinary infections, and beneficial in certain bronchial disorders. Currently, researchers are looking at the berry’s contribution to better heart health and possibly a factor in reduction of tooth plaque.

CRANBERRY BRIE

1  8 oz.           Wheel Brie cheese

2  cups            fresh cranberries

½ cup              water

½ cup              sugar (or to taste)

¼ tsp.             nutmeg

½ cup              chopped pecans

·       Bring water and sugar to boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.

·       Add cranberries and simmer slowly for 10 minutes until berries burst.

·       Remove from heat, cool slightly, add nutmeg and pecans.

·       Let stand until thickened. (This can be made a day in advance. )

·       Pour cranberry mixture over cheese, bake in 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until cheese is slightly melted.

·       Serve with assorted crackers.


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