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Vegetarian Journal Nov/Dec 2000

Crazy About Cranberries

By Debra Daniels-Zeller

One of my favorite getaways is the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State, where a third of the nation's cranberry crop is grown. At the cranberry museum you can learn the history of cranberry farming and take bog tours in the fall. Throughout the local towns you can get such things as cranberry pancakes and toppings, cranberry ice cream, and cranberry candy. Everywhere you look, you're reminded that cranberries help keep these communities alive. And though others may sing the delights of fall pumpkins or crunchy sweet apples, the season hasn't really started until I savor the sassy-sweet flavor of freshly cooked cranberries.

Nutritionally, cranberries are rich in vitamin C and fiber. Though commercial drinks usually contain too much sugar, you can make your own cranberry juice by cooking and straining the berries and sweetening it with a fruit sweetener—or you can drink it unsweetened.

Native to North America, cranberries grew wild in bogs from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, in New Jersey, Michigan, and on the west coasts of Washington and Oregon. Native Americans tended the bogs, hand weeding and harvesting the small red berries. Early settlers called them "crane-berries" because during one stage of growth the cranberry bud hooks downward resembling a crane's head. Later the name was shortened from "crane-berry" to cranberry.

In the early 1800s it was discovered that when the wind blew sand over the bogs, the cranberries grew much more vigorously. Commercial cultivation began as swampy lowlands were cleared and bogs were created with layers of peat and sand. The sand gave the bogs better drainage and also helped protect the cranberries when the temperatures were freezing. Though they need a cool growing season, they are susceptible to frost. To combat this, growers today use sprinkler systems. As the water from the sprinklers freezes over the flesh of the fruit, the berries are kept from freezing.

Though we don't usually start thinking about cranberries until October, in late May the bogs are filled with millions of pink blossoms. In June, growers hire beekeepers to bring hives to their bogs to pollinate cranberry flowers for the next few weeks. In the past, cranberry crops were almost totally dependant on bumblebees for pollination, but as the bumblebee population has declined and crops have increased, they have been replaced with honeybees, which work more slowly and are more easily distracted by other surrounding plants. By August most of the berries have reached full-size and have begun to turn red. By September, they are a deep red color—one of the most beautiful sights of autumn.

Harvesting begins in October and runs through November. The deeper the color of the cranberry, the better the market price, so sometimes farmers try to hold off harvesting, hoping for more cool nights and better colored berries. Berries are either dry or wet harvested. Fresh cranberries in the produce section of your grocery store are dry harvested. Wet harvested berries are processed as juice or made into sauces or relish. In wet harvesting, the night before the harvest, the bogs are flooded. The next day mechanical water reels knock the berries off the vines, and the floating cranberries are corralled and then collected.

Many commercial growers belong to Ocean Spray Growers Cooperative, which processes and markets the berries. Though most commercially grown cranberries use irrigation systems to apply fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides, there is a small number of organic cranberry farmers emerging. It's a difficult process because growers often have to wait seven years to get their first harvest, and since cranberries are susceptible to fungus, their crops can easily be wiped out. Here in the Northwest, the Coquilles—a Native American tribe in Oregon near Coos Bay—are finding their organic, hand-weeded, and harvested cranberries in high demand. The quality of their vine-ripened berries is exceptional, with a rich, sweet flavor.

When selecting berries, look for those that are bright red, hard, and plump. Avoid soft, dull, or shriveled berries. Cranberries will keep up to two months refrigerated, or you can seal them in plastic bags or a container and freeze them. They will keep until the next harvest. The following are some of my favorite cranberry recipes. When creating your own recipes, remember their tart flavor is best balanced with sweet ingredients such as apples, pineapples, pears, or oranges. You can also use frozen cranberries for all these recipes.

Note: For more information about bog bus tours or the cranberry museum in Washington, call the Pacific Coast Cranberry Foundation Museum at (360) 642-4938.

(Makes 1 cup)

This topping is excellent on hot biscuits or fresh bread. Refrigerated, it will keep for about one week.

2 medium pears or apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
11/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup water
3/4 to 1 cup organic or raw sugar
1 to 2 Tablespoons brandy (optional)

In a medium saucepan combine pears or apples, cranberries, orange juice, zest, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes or until fruit is tender. Purée in a blender until smooth. Return to pan and add sugar and brandy, if desired. Cook on medium-low, stirring frequently, until very thick. Once the "butter" begins to thicken, stir constantly so mixture doesn't burn. Cool before serving.

1 Tbsp without brandy:
Total calories per serving: 48
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Sodium: 4 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram

(Makes about 2 cups (4 servings))

Traditional cranberry sauce usually calls for a 2:1 ratio of berries to sugar. Adding another sweet fruit such as apples helps cut down on the amount of sugar without compromising the taste. Fruit sweetener, Sucanat, or unrefined organic sugar can be found in natural foods stores.

2 cups peeled sliced apples (use a sweettart apple such as Jonagold, Granny Smith, or McIntosh)
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup apple juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup fruit sweetener or organic sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Cook all ingredients in a saucepan until fruit is tender—about 5 to 7 minutes. Purée 2 cups at a time in a blender. Return to saucepan and cook until mixture thickens to consistency you desire.

Total calories per serving: 122
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 4 grams

(Serves 8)

As a non-alcoholic beverage to serve guests, this warming cider is a healthy option.

4 to 5 cups fresh cranberries
8 cups apple cider
1/2 cup fruit sweetener or 1/4 cup unrefined
sugar (preferably organic)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced into rounds

*Special equipment: cheesecloth

Combine cranberries with 2 cups apple cider in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until berries are soft. Blend in blender, then strain through cheesecloth. Transfer juice back to saucepan and add remaining cider, fruit sweetener or sugar, cinnamon sticks, and orange slices. Cook, covered, on low for another 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 195
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 49 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 13 milligrams
Fiber: 3 grams

(Serves 8)

Here the tart cranberries are balanced with the sweetness of caramelized onions, sweet winter squash, and currants. Top this beautiful dish with toasted nuts for special occasions. Try serving this with braised winter greens and warm country cornbread. This dish is pictured on the front cover of this issue.

2 Tablespoons olive, canola, or light sesame oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup currants
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 cups cut-up butternut squash (1 pound)
1/2 teaspoon salt
21/2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup lightly toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil, onion, and jalapeño. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until onions are transparent. Remove lid and cook on low for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned. Add the apple juice, currants, cranberries, and squash. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until squash is fork-tender and berries are soft. Blend in salt. Stir in rice and continue to cook until rice is heated. Remove to serving bowl. Mix in chopped celery. Top with toasted nuts, if desired.

without walnuts:
Total calories per serving: 157
Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 29 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 165 milligrams
Fiber: 4 grams

(Makes 1 loaf (6 servings))

This version of soda bread is a bit sweeter than the traditional Irish soda bread. I like to serve it for brunch or at a get-together with friends.

Juice and zest of 1 orange
Vanilla rice milk or soymilk to make 1 cup (when added to orange juice)
3 Tablespoons canola oil
11/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unrefined organic sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup lightly toasted, chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Combine juice and zest of orange with the soy or rice milk to make 1 cup. Add oil and whisk together with a fork. Set aside.

Blend flours and baking soda together, stirring to make sure there are no small lumps of soda. Mix in sugar, fresh and dried cranberries, and walnuts, if desired. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring until a stiff dough is formed. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few turns. Shape into a round loaf and place on the prepared baking sheet. With a sharp knife cut an X across the top about ½-inch deep (to allow for dough expansion when baking). Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is browned.

Remove to cooling rack. Cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing—if you can wait that long!

without walnuts:
Total calories per serving: 306
Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 54 grams
Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 228 milligrams
Fiber: 7 grams

(Serves 8 to 10)

If you're thinking about a holiday pie, consider making a cobbler instead. There is one fewer crust and much less fat, plus you have the delicious flavor of freshly baked fruit to enjoy! This delicious, sweet-tart dessert even gets raves from those who claim to dislike cranberries! For a Cranberry-Pear Cobbler, substitute 3 cups sliced Bosc pears for the apples.

3 cups fresh cranberries
3 cups peeled, sliced, sweet-tart apples (Granny Smiths are a good choice)
One 8-ounce can pineapple chunks
1/2 cup unrefined organic sugar
1/4 cup arrowroot or cornstarch

1/2 cup plain soy or rice milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unrefined organic sugar or Sucanat
1/4 cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon each: soy or rice milk and organic sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coarsely chop cranberries in a blender or food processor. Combine them with apples, pineapple chunks, sugar, and arrowroot or cornstarch. Mix well. Pour into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Blend soy or rice milk with lemon juice and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar, blending well, making sure there are no small lumps. Pour in canola oil and mix with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Add soy or rice milk and lemon juice, and stir until a stiff dough is formed. Add a little more flour, if necessary, for a stiff dough. Roll dough out on a lightly floured board to a 13x9-inch rectangle. Carefully lift dough and place over fruit. Press down. Brush with milk/lemon juice mixture, and sprinkle with sugar. (This makes the crust brown nicely and gives a little sparkle to it.) Cut about 5 slits in the pattern of a star in the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until crust is done and the filling is bubbling. Cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Total calories per serving: 288
Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 54 grams
Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 211 milligrams
Fiber: 5 grams

(Serves 8)

Agar, sometimes known as "Vegetarian Jell-O," makes a tasty holiday treat that young and old alike will enjoy. Agar or agar-agar is a marine algae that is flavorless. You can find it in natural foods stores or Asian markets.

31/2 cups cranberry-apple or apple juice
11/2 cups cranberries
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons agar flakes
1 cup blueberries
1 banana

Combine juice, cranberries, pineapple, salt, and agar flakes in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring for five minutes or until agar is dissolved and cranberries are soft. Add blueberries, and cook for about one more minute. Pour into mold. Stir in sliced banana. Refrigerate until firm.

Total calories per serving: 115
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 29 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 77 milligrams
Fiber: 2 grams

(Makes 3 cups (6 servings))

Pineapples and cranberries pair well together in this non-traditional cranberry sauce which can be flavored with freshly grated ginger or lemon zest. (The zest is the outer peel of a citrus fruit.)

2 cups fresh cranberries
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup mixed berry or apple juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup fruit sweetener
1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or lemon zest

Combine ingredients in a saucepan, starting out with ¼ cup fruit sweetener. Stir and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes (or until mixture looks thick and saucy). Sweeten to taste.

Total calories per serving: 69
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 18 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Sodium: 5 milligrams
Fiber: 2 grams

(Makes 2 cups (4 servings))

Made with Cranberry Applesauce, this easy pudding makes an excellent last-minute dessert.

1 cup Cranberry Applesauce (see recipe, above)
1 cup silken tofu
1 Tablespoon finely chopped walnuts or pecans, or grated coconut

In a blender or with a hand blender, combine Cranberry Applesauce and silken tofu and blend until smooth and creamy. Mix in chopped nuts or grated coconut, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 107
Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram

Debra Daniels-Zeller is a freelance writer from Washington.

Excerpts from the Nov/Dec 2000 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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October 27, 2000

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