By Caro Roszell, NOFA/Mass Education Director
One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving* is my dad’s homemade cranberry sauce. When we were Californians in the late 80’s, we’d get out the can opener and serve the cylinder of ‘sauce’ by slicing off portions like one carves a yule log. But when we moved in ’92 to Cape Cod (to a home surrounded, incidentally, by cranberry bogs) my environmentalist dad became increasingly interested in the organic movement. Eventually he switched to buying local organic cranberries and making a homemade sauce (to the delight of us all).
It’s a really easy recipe, he says— basically you just boil down the cranberries with sugar, lemon zest and liquid. He likes the Trader Joe’s recipe but with a couple minor modifications— “use brown sugar only–no white sugar– and use orange juice instead of water.”
The distinctive and transcendently tart flavor of fresh cranberries begs the question of all New Englanders, especially those of us here in Massachusetts— why go for the stuff in the can when this berry is not only iconic of the Southeast region of our commonwealth but is actually a native plant and a superfood? How often do you find all three things in a food?
And to take the question a step further — why stop at sauce? There are countless reasons and ways to enjoy fresh cranberries.
Let’s start with the ‘why.’ I reached out to NOFA/Mass friend & conference presenter Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk and Honey Herbs for her perspective. Jade is a community and clinical herbalist who uses kitchen medicine in her practice, and who holds deep knowledge of both the wild and cultivated plants of our ecoregion. She was excited to share with us this excerpt from one of her recent newsletters on cranberries. (By the way, her newsletter is beautiful and informative and you should go sign up!)
“Cranberry is off the charts in phytonutrients (anti-oxidants, flavonoids), vitamins (especially Vitamin C, E and K) and trace minerals (especially Manganese and Copper) that protect against cancer, strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system, promote longevity, decrease inflammation in the body (the root of many diseases), and strengthen the immune system- all with a wild burst of sour flavor that aids and enhances digestion and supports the liver. And of course it is a well-known herbal treatment for UTI’s as well. Recent research even shows that eating them often can help promote beneficial gut flora. What more do you need to love this gorgeous wild fruit!”
Another resource on the health benefits of cranberries is this article on the website of Fairland Farms / Cape Cod Organic Cranberry, where farmer Fred Bottomley stewards some cranberry bogs that have been in place since before the Civil War. According to Fairland Farms,
“Native Americans valued cranberries as an aid to treat fevers and they were used to treat blood poisoning in the form of poultices that were placed over the wound to draw out the infection. We now know, thanks to modern research, that cranberries contain a lot of vitamin C and vitamin C is crucial for wound healing.”
The article also goes on to cite the scientific validation of the folkloric use of cranberries to prevent urinary tract infections, as modern medical research has identified a compound in cranberries that “prevents bacteria from adhering to the lining of the bladder wall,” adding that this same compound “also prevents bacteria from adhering to oral mucous membranes, helping to prevent dental caries. It may be that this ability will also prevent the Helicobacter pylori bacterium from adhering to the lining of the stomach. H. pylori is known to cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancers and early research shows promising results in the cranberry’s ability to prevent this bacterial invasion.”
If you’re not convinced already, WebMD has a fact-filled profile on this little red nutraceutical that makes for surprisingly interesting reading. But for everyone who is ready to add fresh cranberries to their fall diet, here are some suggestions for where to get them and how to use them.
According to Jade,
“to get the full health benefits these are best eaten raw. Try them in smoothies, toss them into salads (delicious with pomegranate and pecans), make a fresh sauce or dressing (try mincing in the food processor with oranges, apples, and orange rind), or make a fresh fruit salad with apples, oranges and walnuts roughly chopped. They can even be fermented! And of course do also use them in your baking for their flavor and gorgeous color.”
Another NOFA/Mass friend and conference presenter, Dave Scandurra of Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod knows and loves this fruit. In fact, he once showed me where to forage for wild cranberries among the dunes of the shoreline near the town where we both grew up. His personal favorite way to use the fruit is to freeze the berries and then toss a handful into any and every cold beverage in place of ice cubes. They add a pop of festive color, flavor, nutrition– and even fun (they float!).
While iced cranberries would be fun for any age in homemade lemonade or as a smoothie topper, they can also be used in grownups-only beverages.
For something totally different to try, here’s a recipe for cranberry rangoons from the Cape Cod Cranberry Association’s recipe bank! Don’t have wonton wrappers? No problem—they’re really easy to make. (Personally, I’d sub in coconut oil for the vegetable oil).
¾ cup fresh cranberries
1 fresh jalapeño pepper
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup mayonnaise
10 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. wonton wrappers
1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
Seed and roughly chop jalapeño pepper. Combine cranberries, jalapeño, sugar and mayonnaise in a food processor, process until smooth.
Divide mixture, reserving half for a dipping sauce. Blend softened cream cheese, salt and pepper (if desired) into remaining half until smooth.
Lay out four wonton wrappers on a clean cutting board. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each wrapper. Brush two adjacent edges of the wonton with water, fold in half to make a triangle. Press edges to seal. Set aside on greased or parchment lined cookie sheet.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 18-20 minutes, or in an air fryer for 8 minutes, adjusting from top to bottom rack until evenly brown. Serve warm with reserved dipping sauce.
So, by now we’ve surely convinced you to go beyond the sauce and try cranberries in your broader kitchen repertoire, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t help you find them. No matter where you live in MA, you can get fresh cranberries without having to go to the grocery store.
Buying Guide: Organic Cranberries
Fresh Meadows Farm http://freshmeadowscranberries.com/fresh-organic-cranberries/
Offering certified organic fresh cranberries (while supplies last) Oct-Dec and frozen berries year-round. You can order them online and have them mail delivered!
More about Dom Fernandes, farmer at Fresh Meadows Farm: http://www.cranberries.org/our-berries/meet-our-growers/fresh-meadows-farm
Decas Farm http://www.decasfarms.com/collections/ offers both Cape Cod grown and Quebec grown organic and conventional berries.
Cape Farm Supply & Cranberry Co You can also buy conventional and organic cranberries after touring the bogs at Cape Farm Supply & Cranberry Co, a Harwich- based organic cranberry bog & agrotourism business. http://www.cranberrybogtours.com/farm-stand/
For more places to buy fresh cranberries (organic and conventional) along with photos, recipes, and grower profiles, please visit the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association ( http://www.cranberries.org/) To find more sources of local, organic food and inspiring recipes visit theorganicfoodguide.org
*I refer here to Thanksgiving because the food traditions I mention are associated with the holiday I grew up with in my Irish/English–descended family. However, I want to acknowledge that the 4th Thursday in November is not a day of thanks for everyone. It is a National Day of Mourning for indigenous people, especially those descended from the first people of New England. Please read more about the National Day of Mourning here: http://www.uaine.org/ and in this related newsletter article.