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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Hoard Cranberries while they're in season!

Cranberries are in season beginning mid Fall and continue through late Fall - which is now - and they are my MVP runner up for Fall season flavor but number one for health benefit. These little berries pack an incredibly healthful punch. Check any health information site to see how cranberries receive a rave review and are hailed as a superfood, rightfully so.

“Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, A, and beta carotene. They are packed with antioxidants and rate very high on the ORAC scale making it an ideal anti-aging and memory enhancing food. Cranberries have amazing anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and are a vital food and supplement for anyone struggling with any chronic illness or disease. They are known to significantly boost the immune system and have a natural antibiotic effect in the body.”

“Cranberries contain one of nature’s most potent vasodilators which opens up congested bronchial tubes and pathways making it essential for healing any respiratory condition. Cranberries are very high in tannic acids which gives them their powerful ability to protect and heal urinary tract, bladder, and kidney infections. These tannic acids are made up of compounds called proanthocyanidins which essentially coats the infection forming bacteria, such as E.coli and H.Pylori, with a slick cover and prevents them from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract and digestive tract. Since the bacteria are unable to attach themselves to anything they are flushed out of the system and unable to cause any infection or harm. This anti-adhesion ability also helps to prevent stomach ulcers, gum disease, and cavities. This ability also helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by stopping cholesterol plaque formation in the heart and blood vessels and by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood.” (Anthony William,

Native Americans used cranberries for thousands of years, as medicine, dye and as food, especially in their version of a dried energy bar called pemmican, made to be portable and keep you fed while hunting. “The Pilgrims gave this fruit the name "crane berry" because its pink blossom reminded them of the head of a crane, a large wading bird. Over the years its name has been shortened to cranberry. The New Jersey Pinelands is one of the few places where cranberries grow naturally. Cranberries grow on vines which are very close to the ground. They need sandy, acidic soil which has a high water table. This wet area is called a bog.” ( Massachusetts is another place that bogs were naturally created over thousands of years by melting glaciers.

“Cultivation of the cranberry began in 1816, shortly after Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran, of Dennis, Massachusetts, noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs grew better when sand blew over them. Captain Hall began transplanting cranberry vines and spreading sand on them. When others heard of Hall's technique, it was quickly copied. Continuing throughout the 19th century, the number of growers increased steadily. While initially criticized for tinkering with vines, the idea of growing and selling cranberries commercially soon caught on, and local landowners eagerly converted their swamps, wetlands, peat swamps and wet meadows into cranberry bogs.” ( Harvesting the berries by hand is labor intensive, back breaking work. Over time devices and various methods were developed to make the job easier and more profitable.

Cranberries contain a large amount of natural pectin, the clear fruit agent that thickens liquids. Some fruits have zero natural pectin and require the addition of a thickener like cornstarch or pectin powder. Certain types of apples also contain lots of natural pectin, and sometimes you’ll see apples or cranberries being added to a recipe to achieve this natural thickening result.

Making your own cranberry sauce is about as easy as it gets - 3 ingredients + 10 minutes. The recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag is the one to follow, though I recommend using cranberries from a “small” New Jersey or Massachusetts farm if possible. For each 12 oz bag of washed cranberries, add one cup of water and one cup of sugar (I always use brown sugar, since it is less processed than white sugar and has more flavor from the molasses remaining in it, maple syrup would be the best sweetener for flavor and its effect on your body). Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, add the cranberries and stir, let the mixture return to the boil and boil for 5 to 10 minutes. The cranberry skins will crack and pop, making a joyful sound. Boiling for 5 minutes will keep the cranberries more intact and the overall sauce less thick. Boiling for 10 minutes will break the cranberries down a little more and the sauce will be thicker. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan a little before transferring to a container (that’s Ball jars for me), then allow it to cool completely at room temperature and set. Store cooled sauce in the refrigerator. Then use it as a jam, to accompany poultry, in place of lingonberries for Swedish Meatballs, added to you glasses of water for delicious natural flavoring, and just in every way possible. You’ll see lots of recipes at holiday time that add orange zest or juice and a variety of other “flavorings” to cranberry sauce. I am a cranberry purist. I love the flavor of cranberries and just enjoy them as they are when making sauce. When I bake with them, that’s the time for combining flavors for me. But, you do you.

Since cranberries are in season, I buy at least 2 to 3 bags a week. I make a batch of cranberry sauce, cook with a bag (muffins, quick bread, pie) and freeze a bag or two so I can enjoy their health benefits throughout the harshness of Winter. When I’m feeling unwell or a cold coming on, I like to follow Anthony William’s guidance and make cranberry water. Using a blender, puree a handful of fresh cranberries in a few cups of water to drink. I also add honey to my mixture because I’m not quite able to handle cranberry’s tartness unaided - just yet. It’s a journey.

Cranberries are grown all over the world, but the US and Canada are the number one and number two producers respectively, comprising 98% of total global production. Ocean Spray is also partnered with Oppy, a Canadian company (that also imports fruit and vegetables from all over the world). So while the odds of your Ocean Spray bag of cranberries being from the US or Canada are high, it’s not a guarantee. Cranberries from Chile are exported to North America as well.

The other cranberry producing countries may surprise you. According to, they are, in order of tons produced: 3.Chile, 4. Belarus, 5. Azerbaijan, 6. Latvia, 7. Romania, 8. Ukraine, 9. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 10. Tunisia.

As someone with asthma, cranberries are rather necessary for my well being. I’m hoping that their impressive health benefits will motivate you to eat them more regularly too. So hoard them while they are in season!

A Christmas tradition from Canada and New England, but originating in Quebec more specifically - the holiday meat pie called the Tourtiere. If you're in the experimental mood, try this recipe (link below) and maybe it will become a new Christmas season tradition for you! Enjoy! Cheers!

This week's delicious links:

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