Cranberries have long been a traditional fruit to use in both Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This is largely due to the fact that they are in season at that time of year and they grow plentifully in both Europe and America. Another reason they are used at Thanksgiving is because along with the concord grape and blueberry, cranberries are native to North America and were used by Native Americans as food, medicine and dyes for clothing. Native Americans introduced the early European settlers to cranberries therefore it is no wonder that cranberries are still used today for our annual celebrations. They are marvelously tart and sweet at the same time and go wonderfully with Turkey. Cranberries are used in sauce, jams, jellies, juice, dessert, stuffing and much much more.
Varieties: There are known to be over 100 varieties of cranberries in the United States alone. Worldwide there are many hundreds of varieties. There are four categories that cranberries are segmented into: American, European, Mountain and Highbush. We are all very familiar with the American berries (photographed above and below), the European ones are smaller and mostly ornamental, the mountain berries are rare but occasionally can be found in markets and grocery stores and the high bush ones are used for making jams and jellies.
Season: Cranberries are a fall harvest and are in their peak time from September thru the end of November/ early December. Hence the reason that cranberries are so popular for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. They are in high supply at this time of year and can be purchased at your local farmers’ markets or grocery store.
Heath Benefits: Cranberries have long been described as a “superfood” due to their high levels of nutrients and antioxidants. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins which reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and treat existing ones. They also promote oral health by preventing gum disease and fighting bacteria that tries to bind to the teeth. The high fiber content maintains a healthy digestive system while the vitamin C promotes a healthy immune system. Cranberries are also known to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure to a healthy level. It is also thought that cranberries can help reduce the risk of certain cancers and actually aid in slowing tumor progression.
Nutrients: Contains vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, sodium and calcium. Half a cup of cranberries is 25 calories.
How to store them: When selecting cranberries make sure to pick ones that have a deep red color and are firm. Do not pick ones that are damaged, bruised, shriveled or soft. Cranberries turn from white to red when they are ripe so avoid any light or white berries. Store cranberries in the fridge for up to 15 days or frozen for a year or so.