Would Turkey Day seem complete without cranberry sauce? Whether we love it or loathe it, most of us will not be without this uniquely American fare come Thursday.
The cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpan, is native to the acid bogs of eastern North America. Native Americans of the Narraganset tribe used the berries for dye as well as for food. No doubt they introduced the fruit to the Pilgrims.
Today the United States and Canada produce most of the world’s cranberries. Wisconsin leads with 65 percent of the crop followed by Massachusetts and Quebec. The creeping shrubs are grown in specially-constructed beds which are surrounded by irrigation. The beds are flooded in the fall to facilitate harvesting and again in winter to protect the plants against very low temperatures. The rest of the year the beds are drained so that the farmers can maintain the beds and nurture the shrubs.
About 95 percent of the fruit is processed into juice and cranberry sauce. The berries are harvested between September and early November so fresh cranberries are only available around the winter holidays. One can freeze the fresh berries for use when they are out of season.
Fresh berries are quite tart. In fact some might call them sour. If you are going to make your own sauce, most recipes call for 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar per bag of berries.
I only began making cranberry sauce a few years ago. It is surprisingly easy to do and can be prepared several days in advance and refrigerated until the feast. Many recipes call for some citrus fruit juice or zest in addition to the sugar. My favorite version calls for a bouquet garni of whole spices. I love making the cheesecloth bags to hold the spices as much as the flavorful sauce.
Miss Ann’s Cranberry Sauce
3 whole cloves
3 white peppercorns
1 whole allspice berry
1 star anise
1 12-oz. package fresh cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
Place spices in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag.
Combine cranberries and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until cranberries soften, about 6 minutes. Add the spice bundle and sugar. Cook stirring occasionally until the sauce begins to thicken, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the spice bundle.
Serve the sauce warm or cold.
Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, manganese and antioxidants. Daily consumption reduces the risk of urinary tract infections. Research into this is ongoing.
It may be that a cranberry supplement can replace downing a daily dose of cranberry juice.
Master gardener Ann Bartlet spends some time in the kitchen when the weather keeps her from the ornamental beds surrounding her home.