Crazy for cranberries

Fresh crans, Patience Fruit Co.

Use fresh or dried cranberries all year round. Courtesy Patience Fruit Co.

Matt French’s cranberry sauce will be smoking this Christmas.

French, sales director and winemaker at Johnston’s in Muskoka, Ontario’s largest cranberry farm, teamed up with a Port Carling chef to throw homegrown cranberries in the smoker for 30 minutes before mixing them with sautéed leeks and onions, a splash of his cranberry wine and local honey.

“The berries are still tart,” he says, “but with the leeks and smoke it’s amazing!”

In November, owner Murray Johnston raked the last of his 127,000 kilogram crop of cranberries from their stubby vines.

With harvesting complete across the country, now’s the time to grab a bag or two of these healthy, limited-edition berries and freeze for use year-round.

French livens up sweet and savoury dishes with the crisp native berries.

“Think of the cranberry as our local lemon,” he says. “Juice them yourself or throw in a handful of berries to add a bright, crisp acidity — and a beautiful red colour — to almost anything.”

Beyond sauce, cranberries are a natural in baking, cutting the sweetness in his lemon muffins and banana bread and adding a burst of deliciousness when paired with ginger or chocolate.

Cranberries also shine in juice and smoothies. Toss a few in the water jug at Christmas, and add their festive glow to sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.

Local rules

While American cranberries rule our supermarket shelves, followed by Quebec, Ontario’s smaller crop pops up in independent stores or gets processed into treats from sauce to cider. Johnston’s customers include Stasis Preserves, Wildly Delicious, Touché Bakery, Algoma Orchards and Black River Juice. Look for his Muskoka Lakes cranberry wine in the LCBO, or head north for a Bog to Bottle tour any time of year.

To your health

North America’s indigenous people have long prized cranberries for their health benefits. As well as being a good source of fibre and vitamin C, research conducted by the grower-supported Cranberry Institute proves that cranberries contain a particular type of flavonoid that prevents E. coli bacteria from causing urinary tract infections.

Organic addition

Quebec-based Fruit D’Or, the world’s largest certified organic cranberry grower and processor, recently changed its brand name to Patience to highlight the care they take with their jewel-like berries, sold fresh and dried whole into soft, chewy morsels. “In the past two years consumers have really started looking for organic options,” says retail manager Marie-Michele Le Moine, who urges us to think beyond the holidays and use cranberries year-round.

Buy & Store

  • Cranberries are available fresh from late September to late December and frozen for sale year-round.
  • Look for bags of firm, brightly-coloured berries. Avoid brown, bruised or mouldy berries.
  • Frozen berries are currently the freshest choice, says French, since fresh berries may have been sitting on the shelf for several months.
  • Store fresh cranberries in their original bag up to two weeks in the fridge. Rinse before using.
  • Freeze bags of berries up to one year.

Prep

  • Discard discoloured or soft cranberries. Rinse just before using.
  • There’s no need to thaw frozen berries before use.
  • Choose your favourite sweetener, perhaps honey or maple syrup.

Serve

  • Add chopped cranberries to morning oatmeal and smoothies.
  • For a DIY sauce, bring 1.5 cups orange juice and 1.5 cups granulated sugar to a boil then simmer 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add 3 cups cranberries and simmer 5 minutes, covered, until berries pop. Keep covered until completely cool and refrigerate up to one week. Serve with roast turkey, chicken or duck.
  • Throw a handful of cranberries in an apple or pear crisp, sweetening with maple syrup.
  • Try a fresh, zippy cran salsa.
  • Roast 2 cups cranberries in 1 tbsp  oil for 20 minutes at 375F to caramelize. Toss with cooked wild rice and toasted pecans.
  • Choco Clusters: Place clusters of 3 to 4 small berries on a parchment-lined sheet and coat with melted dark chocolate. Let sit until hard. Vary with nuts and granola.
  • Add berries to quick bread or pound cake batter.
  • Freeze and float in sparkling wine.
Quick Cranberry Cobbler cynthia photo 

Quick Cran Cobbler

Unexpected holiday guests? Whip up this light, easy cake studded with sweet-tart cranberries. No electric mixer needed! Adapted from Martha Stewart.

1/3 cup  unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan

1 1/4 cups  fresh cranberries, partly thawed if frozen

2 tbsp + ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided

1 cup  all-purpose flour

2 tbsp grated orange zest

1 1/4 tsp  baking powder

1/2 tsp  table salt

1/2 cup  milk

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease or spray a 9-inch (22 cm) or 10-inch (24 cm) pan.

In small bowl, stir cranberries with 2 tbsp sugar. In large bowl, whisk together flour, orange zest, baking powder, salt and remaining ¾ cup sugar.

Measure milk in glass measuring cup, whisk in egg then add melted butter, mixing well.

Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and stir just until combined and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Scatter cranberries evenly over top, using all the sugar. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes before cutting in wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

Tip: If using a 10-inch pan, bake a few minutes longer.

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