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Add a little color to your holidays with cranberries

Jennifer King Ferreira • Dec 5, 2018 at 10:30 AM

Years ago, while exploring Cape Cod, I unexpectedly came upon an eye-popping sea of scarlet. I had never experienced a cranberry bog firsthand and was captivated by these rivers of floating fruit that ran beside the roadway, setting the local scene ablaze. 

I later learned that cranberries do not grow in water but prefer boggy or marshy land. The water comes into play when it is time for harvest. Because the berries have a little air pocket that allows them to float, the bogs are flooded with water at harvest time to make them easier to collect. 

Cranberries are one of the three truly North American fruits and were first used by Native Americans for feed, dyes and medicinal purposes. They even made a type of energy bar with the berries by incorporating them with dried meat and fat. These bitter fruits had various names, depending on the tribe, but it was the European settlers who first tagged them crane berries (later shortened to cranberry). For some reason, they thought that the bloom looked like a crane spreading its wings. Early explorers and whalers often kept them on board their ships to prevent scurvy. 

We now know that cranberries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and flavonoids and that our Native American friends were right on target with the medicinal uses and health benefits.

A few fun facts to share about this compact little fruit:

* It will bounce because of the air pocket!

* It takes about 4,500 cranberries to make a gallon of juice

* They are about 90 percent water, making them only 50 calories per cup.

Cranberries begin as white fruits and turn a vibrant shade of red as they ripen. It is this gorgeous shade of red that makes this the perfect, festive fruit to perk up any holiday dish! Cranberries are one of those ingredients that add pizzazz to a variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. I love having a big bag of fresh cranberries in the refrigerator to experiment with over the holidays. They pair beautifully with apples, pears and oranges. They can be incorporated into sauces for chicken or pork and used to make stuffing, relish and a variety of desserts. 

Recently, I tried using them in a “nontraditional” green bean casserole that I sent with my son to a Friendsgiving celebration. It was easy and quick. I mixed steamed green beans, bacon, pecans, cranberries and parmesan cheese with cream of onion soup and sour cream, put them in a casserole and sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs and more parmesan. Then I baked it for about 30 minutes on 350. After their feast, I received a speaker phone call with rave reviews. Mom badge awarded!

If you are like me, you probably get excited about the holidays and grab up a couple of bags of cranberries with big plans in mind — but for some reason, every time you open the refrigerator drawer there is still part of a bag staring at you. So why not decorate with your leftover berries? Cover a styrofoam ball with berries and greenery to make a topiary; use them for a centerpiece in a shallow bowl with greenery and silver balls; fill glass vases with cranberries and top with votives; or teach your kids how to string them to make old fashioned garlands. You might even put them on a skewer to use as a stir stick to brighten up your cup of Christmas cheer!

I have experimented with many cranberry recipes. I have chosen three that are perfect for the holidays and also make wonderful gifts.

Cranberry Cheddar Bread

3 cups of fresh cranberries

3/4 cup of sugar

4 cups of flour

1½ cups of sugar

2 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt or less

1 cup chopped pecans

3 Tbsp freshly grated orange peel

3 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese

2 cups milk

1/2 cup melted butter

Wash cranberries and pat dry; mix with 3/4 cup of sugar until coated well. Set aside. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together and mixed in sugared cranberries, orange peel, nuts and cheese. In separate bowl, blend egg, milk and melted butter together until smooth and add to other mixture. Bake at 350 degree for 1 hour in greased and lightly floured loaf pans.

Joan Horsch’s Cranberry Apricot Relish

3 cups fresh cranberries (1 lb.)

2 cups chopped, dried apricots

1 cup golden raisins

1 Tbsp grated orange rind

1/4 tsp ginger

2½ cups water

1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients except sugar over medium heat until cranberry skins pop. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of sugar. This recipe makes about 2 quarts. You can either can them properly in ball jars for instant gifts or keep them in an airtight container in refrigerator until ready to use. Perfect with turkey, chicken or pork.

Cranberry Bleu Cheese Ball

16 oz. cream cheese, softened

8 oz. bleu cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup bacon crumbles

1/4 cup green onion tops, finely diced and divided in half

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained well (put 1 cup of crushed pineapple in colander and squeeze down to take most of juice out)

1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped, divided in half

1/2 cup pecans, chopped and divided in half

Combine softened cream cheese and bleu cheese until well blended. Add bacon, 1/8 cup of green onion and next three ingredients and blend together until smooth. Add pineapple, 1/4 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 cup chopped pecans and stir together until smooth. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Refrigerate for at least two hours. Take out and form into two large balls or four smaller and roll in remaining 1/4 cup cranberries, 1/4 cup pecans and 1/8 cup finely diced green onion tops. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers or veggie sticks.

Jennifer King Ferreira grew up in Kingsport, where she received her first cooking experiences from her grandmother, Genevieve Shivell. She is the past owner of the Abingdon General Store and Plum Alley Eatery, a gourmet store and restaurant in Abingdon, Va., and is the former director of the Cooking Along the Crooked Road Culinary Program.

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