Everything You Need to Know About Cranberries
Cranberries are in season in the fall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them all year round. In other words, don’t keep cranberries in the holiday shoebox! These tart and tasty berries add a burst of flavour and colourful pop to main courses, side dishes and beloved desserts.
Cranberries, a cousin of the blueberry, have been known to grow wild in some parts of Canada. However, commercial cranberries are grown in bogs, where the plants’ vines are burrowed deep into the soil. These berries are harvested by flooding the fields, which results in a layer of floating berries that are easier to gather. After fall harvest, the plants are protected by a layer of winter ice, and then spring back to life as the warm weather returns. Cranberry plants are very sturdy; there are some cultivars in the US that have been producing fruit for over 100 years.
How to Select and Store Cranberries
When selecting fresh cranberries, look for plump and shiny berries that are firm to the touch. They should range in colour from bright to deeply hued red, and be free of blemishes or discolouration. Also, be sure to avoid cranberries that are shrivelled and/or brown.
Thanks to food preservation methods like freezing and drying, we are able to enjoy cranberries year round. Frozen berries are readily available in the frozen fruit section of most grocery stores and are an excellent replacement for fresh berries in many recipes when cranberries are no longer in season (mid-September to early November). There is no need to defrost the berries before using them, but for recipes that call for raw cranberries, thaw and drain any excess moisture from the frozen fruit before using.
To freeze cranberries, store them in the freezer in their original packaging, or transfer to an airtight freezer-safe container if the berries have been purchased in bulk. Frozen berries will keep for up to 12 months.
Important to note: before storing, sort and remove any soft, discoloured, or shrivelled berries. Store fresh cranberries in their original packaging (plastic bag) or in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks in the fridge. When you remove them for use, check their appearance again. Berries with moisture on them are safe to eat, but it’s best to avoid consuming those that are sticky, leathery, soft, or discoloured.
How to Prepare Cranberries
Wash berries by placing in colander and rinsing with cool running water. Let drain dry or use a clean kitchen towel to pat the berries dry.
Cranberries have a vibrant tart flavour, and are best prepared with a sweetener like sugar or maple syrup. Cranberries are also often paired with sweet fruits like oranges, apples, or pineapple to cut their tart flavour naturally.
A versatile fruit, they can be roasted, baked, cooked over the stovetop, blended, poached, candied or juiced. They can even be used to infuse alcohol like vodka or gin.
To roast cranberries: toss fresh, cleaned cranberries with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. sugar or maple syrup, and roast at 400ºF (205ºC) until caramelized (about 15-20 minutes). Serve over a bed of rice, quinoa, or farro with your favourite herb-rubbed proteins.
Homemade cranberry sauce is a classic and everyone has their own twist on making it their own. Leave it chunky or puree it until it’s smooth—Canadian Living’s cranberry sauce is simple and sweet.
- Everyone has their own spin on cranberry sauce, but you don’t necessarily need a recipe to make a beautiful cranberry sauce. The Kitchn has a unique formula for the perfect cranberry sauce, with options for other add-ins of your choice!
- Have you tried cranberries without any flavour additions? They’re quite tart. We recommend adding sweetener like regular white granulated sugar or maple syrup to enhance their unique flavour.
- Try cutting down on the acidity of cranberries by adding approximately ¼ tsp. of baking soda for each cup of cooked cranberries. It’s a similar trick that people use to cut down on the acidity of tomato based soups and sauces. Just make sure you wait for the bubbles to diminish before you taste test again.
- For best results, cook cranberries just until they pop. Overcooking them makes them taste bitter.
- If you don’t have access to fresh or frozen cranberries, you can reconstitute dried cranberries by soaking them in hot water for 20 minutes before using in recipes that call for fresh berries.
- Use a food processor to finely chop cranberries quickly and easily.
What goes well with Cranberries
Produce: pumpkin, orange, lemon, lime, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, apple, sweet potato, mushrooms, butternut squash, acorn squash, pear
Savoury: turkey, rice, farro, quinoa, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, oats, beef, chicken, pork, a variety of mild cheeses including brie, mild cheddar and cream cheese.
Herbs & Spices: thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, cumin, mint, lavender, nutmeg, sage, ginger, and anise
Other: vodka, bourbon, gin, red wine, balsamic vinegar, white or dark chocolate
Cranberry Serving Ideas
Everyone loves turkey and cranberry sauce, but why not change it up with some cranberry stuffed turkey meatballs from our contributor, Amy Bronee (Family Feedbag).
If you are looking for a meat alternative for your vegetarian or vegan friends and family, try making Sam’s holiday stuffed Portobello mushrooms from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.
The holidays are also graced with citrus season, so take advantage of the perfect marriage of cranberry and orange by making our cranberry orange loaf. You can also make delicious holiday treats like these cranberry nut bars or chocolate dipped cranberry cookies!
Make oat squares with a fig and cranberry filling from Dinner with Julie. It’s perfect for bringing to school as a treat or bringing to a potluck for dessert. Or finish your family dinner with this Spiced Cranberry Apple Crumble.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, 100g of raw cranberries (approx. 1 cup/250 mL) contain a great number of your daily-recommended intake of nutrients: 46 calories, 22% of Vitamin C, 6% of Vitamin K, 18% of fibre (4.6 g), 3% of Vitamin B-6, and 91 µg of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.