Darling readers, it's been a long time since you've seen this logo, huh? The last time that my friend Ricki and I hosted a Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge was back in June. Remember? It was early summer and we paid honor to the noble blueberry. You created wonderful sweet and savory recipes featuring the blueberry and shared them for all to see. We were so pleased with the turn out!
And yet, despite our love for all your inspiring entries, Ricki and I decided to take a break through the summer to focus on our friends, our families, and our selves. In my case, this holiday from the blog turned out to be a significant blessing! With limited internet access, multiple housing changes, a broken laptop, and a very busy schedule of cooking demos and travel and food swaps, I've hardly been online all summer.
With the coming of Fall, I am happy to say things seem to be finding a place of balance. And thus, Ricki and I are excited to bring the SOS back to life! So, without further adieu...
Our featured ingredient this month has a humble history, but has recently joined the ranks of “super foods” like blueberries, spinach, and pumpkins. Their ravishing red color is unmistakable and their sweet-tart flavor is unique and versatile.
Any guesses yet? Okay, okay, we’ll tell you. Our featured ingredient this month is...
Basic Cranberry Information
Cranberries are related to blueberries, and grow in sandy bogs in cool climates of the Northern hemisphere. The short shrubby plants have long trailing vines, featuring evergreen leaves, distinctive pink flowers, and shiny plump berries. Unripe cranberry fruits are white and the fruits deepen to the characteristic red color as they ripen.
Native Americans used cranberries as food, medicine, and dye. Soon after they arrived, the European settlers caught on to the versatility of cranberries and incorporated them in their meals. In fact, the early colonialists are responsible for the name cranberry, which derives from “crane berry” - the distinctive shape of the wiry stem and flower petals and stamen reminded them of the neck, head, and beak of a crane. American colonialists shipped plants to Europe in the early 1800s, where the cranberry quickly gained popularity throughout Great Britain and Scandinavia.
Ricki and I are lucky, as we both live in cranberry country - cranberries are grown throughout southern Canada and in northern portions of the United States. In fact, my home state of Wisconsin leads the way in U.S. production, pushing out more than 50% of the crop! As a native Wisconsinite, I take cranberry bogs for granted, as a drive through the countryside always revealed low-lying bogs dotted with shining red berries. I grew up eating fresh cranberries prepared a variety of ways in the fall, and my family often had bags of fresh cranberries in the freezer. But it doesn't stop there. My grandparents took my brother and I on a tour of the Ocean Spray cranberry plant in Tomah, Wisconsin, and I’ve visited the Cranberry Festival in Eagle River, Wisconsin more than once. What can I say, I’m a cranberry lover from the get-go!
How to Select and Store
Cranberries are in season from October through December, and can be found fresh at grocery stores and green markets. Frozen berries can be found all year round. Almost 95% of the cranberry crop is processed into juice, dried cranberries, and sauces, while the other 5% is sold raw. When selecting fresh, raw cranberries, look for firm fruits that are deep red and free of blemishes. Firmness is a key indicator, and ripe cranberries will actually bounce when you drop them. This has earned them the nickname “bounceberries”.
Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or can be frozen for several years. If freezing them, rinse the berries then lay on a flat baking sheet or pan, and freeze. Then place in a freezer bag and seal tightly. Frozen cranberries can be used as-is in recipes; there is no need to thaw. Cranberry juice should be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for later use. Dried cranberries will keep for 6-12 months if well-sealed.
Culinary and Nutrition Benefits
The fruits are incredibly versatile; thanks to their sweet-tart flavor they can be used for a variety of sweet or savory applications. They can be used for sauces, chutneys, relishes, smoothies, and in baked goods and other desserts. Dried cranberries are an excellent addition to breads and muffins, granola or meusli, or as a snack on their own. For a savory option, try adding to stuffings, salsas, salad dressings, salads, or for adding a tart flavor element to soups or stews. Cranberry juice can be used to make everything from agar agar molds to punches to flavorful apple cider blends. Ricki and I have both enjoyed using cranberries on our blog. Check out Ricki’s Stevia-Sweetened Dried Cranberries or my Stevia-Sweetened Apple-Cranberry Sauce.
In addition to amazing culinary variety, cranberries pack a lot of nutrition in a small package. They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and dietary fiber. Additionally, they contain powerful phytonutrients that may help support the cardiovascular system, immune system, and may even reduce the risk of cancer. Cranberries also contain compounds that may help prevent and eliminate bacterial infections of the urinary system, particularly in cases of urinary tract infections. Cranberry pills or unsweetened cranberry juice are often suggested to people and animals struggling with UTIs!
What an amazing fruit, huh? Ricki and I think these little red berries pack an admirably powerful punch.
How to Participate in the SOS
To participate, please adhere to the following guidelines:
- Cook up a sweet or savory recipe--whether yours or someone else's with credit to them--using cranberries. Your recipe must be made for this event, within the month of the challenge--sorry, no old posts are accepted. Then, post the recipe to your blog (if you don’t have a blog, see instructions below).
- Be sure to mention the event on your post and link to the current SOS page so that everyone can find the collection of recipes. Then, link up the recipe using the Linky tool below.
- As a general rule, please use mostly whole foods ingredients (minimally processed with no artificial flavors, colors, prepackaged sauces, etc.). For example, whole grains and whole grain flours; no refined white flours or sugar (but either glutenous OR gluten-free flours are fine).
- Please ensure that recipes are vegan or include a vegan alternative (no animal products such as meat, fish, chicken, milk, yogurt, eggs, honey).
- Please use natural sweeteners (no white sugar, nothing that requires a laboratory to create--such as splenda, aspartame, xylitol, etc.). Instead, try maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, dates, yacon syrup, Sucanat, stevia, etc.
- Feel free to use the event logo on your blog to help promote the event
- Have fun and let your creativity shine!
- You may enter as many times as you like, but please submit a separate entry for each recipe.
For all the details (and to view past challenges), check out the SOS Kitchen Challenge page.
If you don’t have a blog, you can still participate! Simply email your recipe, or recipe and a photo, to email@example.com. We’ll post it for you.
Deadline for submission is Monday, October 31, 2011.
Ricki and I look forward to seeing what you do with cranberries this month. It’s good to be back!