Cranberries are a small, interesting fruit with a tart flavor that can be enjoyed in many dishes ranging from appetizers, sauce, stuffing, crisp, candy, and cocktails. Cranberries have been reported to provide a wide range of health benefits, including control of chronic inflammation, chronic cardiovascular diseases and urinary tract infections (UTI). This is attributed to the high concentrated source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, and vitamin C and vitamin E, which are important antioxidant nutrients.
These delicious little berries grow on a low-lying vine that requires special growing conditions, including acid peat soil and freshwater. Cranberries typically grow in low-lying beds or bogs that were created by glacial deposits. Modern cultivation practices use wetlands ponds and other water bodies. The North American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is the fruit recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as the standard for fresh cranberries and the cranberry juice cocktail. It grows on trailing vines like a strawberry.
Normally, growers do not replant each year since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines on Cape Cod are more than 150 years old and still bearing fruit. While Wisconsin is currently the major growth region for cranberries (>50%), they are grown throughout New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. Other regions grow cranberries as well, including Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, and the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. Cranberries are typically floated in water for easy harvesting and there are no shortage of cranberry festivals across the country.
Fresh Cranberry Orange Sauce (prepare extra for the crisp recipe below)
I absolutely adore the tart flavor of cranberries and I associate this distinct flavor with fall and the winter holiday season. Orange is a great complement to cranberry. Preparing cranberry sauce is so easy. Dump everything in a pot, heat until the berries pop and the mix thickens, transfer to a storage container. Doesn’t get easier!
Here is a link to my favorite Cranberry Orange Sauce Recipe. I didn’t have a zester handy at the cabin, so I had to use a peeler and slice the strips with a knife. If you don’t have the right kitchen gadget don’t give up. There is always an alternative. The trick is to avoid the bitter pith (white part of the orange peel). I recommend going light on the sugar addition. For me the recipe specified just the right amount, but it’s always best to add to your desired sweetness level as berry sweetness can vary.
Cranberry-Apple Crisp (Prepare using leftover cranberry relish or canned)
This is soooooo easy. Don’t overthink it. Blend the cranberry sauce and apples to get a combination that you think will work for you. You can use canned cranberry sauce, but I had about 1/2- of the recipe above leftover. I prefer tart apples like Granny Smith or what I find to be just a bit sweeter, Honey Crisp. I used 4 small-medium sized Honey Crisp apples.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Butter a baking dish and fill with cranberry-apple mixture. Add powdered sugar if desired to increase thickness of the sauce (I add 1 tablespoon).
For the topping, combine the following ingredients.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 3/4-cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I melt the butter to make blending easier).
Mix topping and distribute over cranberry-apple mixture. Bake approximately 40-minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes to thicken. Enjoy as is or top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Cranberry-Orange Infused Vodka
Celebrate fall and the holiday season with cranberry-orange infused vodka.
- Purchase a 1.5L bottle of vodka. Select the best brand you can afford. I prefer vodka that is sold in a glass bottle.
- Remove more than half of the vodka to make space for the fruit.
- Add 3/4 cup sugar. You can add more later if the infusion is too tart. I prefer it tart. The sugar dissolves easily, so I have never found the need to use a simple syrup.
- It’s not necessary, but I do cut the cranberries in half before adding back to the vodka bottle. Fill the bottle to the neck with cranberries.
- Add the juice and zest of one orange. Mix well.
- Add cranberries and vodka until the bottle is filled and all cranberries are submerged.
- Be patient. Wait at least 3-weeks for full flavor and color to develop.
- Transfer into decorative bottles using layers of cheesecloth remove cranberry seeds.
- Enjoy with friends or use as a cocktail ingredient for holiday parties. See below for ideas.
note: I always try an extra infusion with the remaining vodka. This year I added fresh basil. This will be perfect in holiday Bloody Mary’s.
Simple Cranberry Orange Vodka Cocktails
This vodka makes a great hostess gift when presented in a pretty bottle with a ribbon. If you are ready for a simple cocktail, just shake on ice and serve in a martini glass with an orange twist. Be careful, this is pretty potent! You can also serve this homemade aperitif with seltzer (lime seltzer is great), ginger ale, or orange juice. Any combination of these mixers work great, so create a signature cocktail that’s just right for your party.
What are your favorite ways to use cranberries? Please share below. I would love to try out candy recipes.