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Cooking with Cranberries

No fruit is more synonymous with Thanksgiving than the cranberry. These juicy little dark red fruits, after all, are native to North America, so why shouldn’t they be dubbed the official fruit of this all-American holiday?

Grown in watery “bogs” in just a handful of U.S. states, the cranberry makes its appearance each November on millions of tables throughout the country, usually in that jellied form that we like to eat with our turkey.

Statistics released by Ocean Spray, the country’s top producer of cranberry sauce and cranberry drinks, notes that about 400 million pounds of cranberries are sold in the U.S. each year. A whopping 11 billion of those little cranberries are consumed during Thanksgiving week, say the cranberry experts. That’s a lot of sauce!

Some families always buy the canned stuff while others choose to purchase fresh or pre-packaged frozen cranberries and make their own creations. Some people like the smooth, jellied stuff while others opt for the whole-fruit type of cranberry sauce.

But cooks in-the-know recognize that there’s so much more one can do with cranberries than mush them up and put them in this favorite Thanksgiving condiment. This fruit, which is – as an added perk – filled with plenty of vitamin C and antioxidants, can be included in myriad other foods and can certainly be used year round, not just during the holiday season.

Baked Goods

Cranberries make a great addition to baked goods of many kinds and their tartness adds a little tang to otherwise sweet concoctions. Instead of the usual blueberries, try using them in muffins. (You’ll often find cranberries mixed with an orange flavoring in muffins or other baked goods, as the sweet and the tart balance out each other.) Cranberries are also ideal for coffee cake-type goodies that go great with a cup of java, in quick breads, or even mixed in with pancake or waffle batter.

Many people choose to use dried cranberries in their recipes, especially during those times of the year when fresh cranberries are a little harder to find than during the Thanksgiving season. In addition, some bakers substitute these dried fruits, like Ocean Spray’s Craisins®, in recipes that call for raisins. The color makes them more appealing to the eye and they are indeed tastier than traditional raisins, most people agree.

Salads

Many restaurants have taken to adding cranberries to their salads and the little red fruit is a big hit with customers. Popular chain restaurant T.G.I. Friday’s™ has a pecan-crusted chicken salad that includes greens, mandarin oranges, glazed walnuts, bleu cheese, and dried cranberries. It’s the most popular salad on their menu, the chain notes. Other restaurants have taken to including dried cranberries on their salad bars. Again, the fruits are aesthetically appealing, adding color as well as a little zip to the salad.

Dried cranberries do indeed work best for salads and you can pair them with just about any kind of green, including not only traditional romaine or iceberg lettuce, but also with a slightly bitter spring mix or spinach. The addition of nuts is a great complement to the cranberries and some sort of zesty cheese, like gorgonzola, works nicely in tandem with the fruit as well.

Other Condiments

Aside from the favorite cranberry sauce, fresh cranberries can also be fashioned into other popular condiments. For example, cooks who are not afraid to stray from the traditional are giving cranberry chutney a try for Thanksgiving. Not unlike other chutneys, the cranberry variety is chunky in texture, and though recipes vary, other fruits are generally included, like oranges, pineapples, or apples, and the chutneys are generally seasoned with cinnamon and sometimes ginger.

Cranberry salsa is also popping up in restaurants and other kitchens across the U.S. Seasoned with typical Mexican spices like cilantro, this cranberry recipe also includes traditional salsa ingredients like tomatoes and onions.