Cranberry jelly is a staple but there are many more tasty dishes to be made with these small red berries. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day
Those little red balls called cranberries, about the size of a large English pea, are often forgotten unless there is going to be a turkey on the table. While they are most familiar made up as a sauce or jelly, they can provide many additional palate pleasures.
Of all fruits, only three—the cranberry, Concord grape and blueberry—can trace their roots to North American soil.
The cranberry has helped to sustain Americans for hundreds of years. Native Americans, recognizing the natural preservative power of cranberries (benzoic acid), used them in a variety of ways, the most popular being pemmican, a high-protein combination of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and melted fat. They were also made into a dye for rugs and blankets and as a medicine to treat arrow wounds.
This they passed on to the early settlers who in turn learned how to make use of this native fruit with their own methods. They made the first cranberry juice around 1683 and by 1816 the first cultivated cranberry bogs were found in Dennis, Massachusetts. By the 1820s Americans were exporting cranberries to Europe. By the latter part of the 19th century a 100-pound barrel of cranberries was selling for 58 cents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
During the 20th century the cranberry industry had its ups and downs. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., was formed as a grower marketing cooperative which was an up. The cranberry scare in 1959 when it was discovered that aminotriazole, a weed killer used to spray cranberry runners, could be harmful to humans, was a down. The 21st century would look a great deal brighter to cranberry producers; supply was better matching demand, and prices seemed to remain stabilized. The industry has returned to profitability thus providing those tasty and delicious cranberries that can be used in so many different ways.
Fresh cranberries will bounce if you drop them and are quite firm to the touch. They can be stored up to two months in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator. Cooked cranberries can last up to a month, covered and in the refrigerator. If a liqueur or liquor is added to cooked berries, they can last up to a year in the refrigerator. Fresh berries may be washed, dried and frozen in an airtight container for up to one year.