Thursday, November 4, 2010

Focus: CRANBERRIES (Vaccinium Macrocarpon)

Cranberries are not vegetables and they are not a fruit grown at Featherstone Farm -- so why I am writing about them?  First,  cranberries are in season.  They are very affordable this time of year.  It is almost Thanksgiving and I think there is a law that some kind of cranberry dish has to be on the table. 

Second, Featherstone Farm is located in the Driftless Region, which includes SE Minnesota and SW Wisconsin.  Our neighbors to the east grow cranberries, big time.  Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state - a little over half the national crop. (The next biggest cranberry growing state is Massachusetts at 28% of the national crop.  Michigan, Minnesota and Maine also have significant commercial cranberry production)  Cranberries are also the Wisconsin state fruit.  Read all about Wisconsin cranberries here.

Third, we can't live on vegetables alone.  (Well, maybe we could but who would want to?  Even vegans consume fruits, nuts, grains and legumes)  Vegetables need buddies, companions, and friends.   Humans need variety.  Cranberries provide extra color, flavor and nutrition to the plate.  A hearty winter vegetable stew with carrots and potatoes and onions is a good thing.  But a little pool of cranberry apple chutney on the side can transform good into perfect. 

Growing cranberries
Cranberries grow on low creeping shrubs or vines in acidic boggy or marshy areas with cool climates.  In Wisconsin and other places, the cranberry bogs are flooded during the fall harvest so the fruit floats. It is then easier to mechanically harvest.  95% of the fruit is used for juice, sauce or drying.  Only 5% is sold fresh.  Much of the fresh crop is dry harvested by hand, to ensure better quality.

Fresh cranberries freeze well.  Just put in freezer bags and store in freezer.  They will keep a year or even longer if well wrapped.  Use them right out of the freezer for baking or other recipes. You can also use cranberries to make juice, jelly or sauce which can be canned or frozen.

Cranberries are marketed these days as "functional foods" or a "superfruit" because various scientific studies show that the fruit is high in antioxidants and cancer preventing properties.  The fruit is also high in vitamin C, A and K and fiber.  There are 46 calories in 100 grams (that's before any sugar is added!)

The Ocean Spray web site has several recipes combining cranberries and vegetables  such as: 
Roasted pumpkin (or squash) risotto with cranberry brown butter sauce
Brussels sprouts salad with pancetta and cranberries
Cranberry carrot saute

Cranberries also combine surprisingly well with onions or leeks.  This is a wonderful recipeadapted from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland by Lucia Watson and  Beth Dooley.     

Cranberry Leek Compote - makes 5-6 cups
Serve at room temperature.  Will keep in refrigerator about 5 days or freeze.
1/2 cups currants or dried cranberries
1 cup apple cider
4 cups cranberries, rinsed and sorted
3/4 cup sugar
6 T. butter (you could cut this back a bit and not hurt the results.  Or use part olive oil)
2 1/2 pounds leeks, sliced (white and light green parts)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Soak dried fruit in cider in a sauce pan about half an hour.  Add fresh cranberries. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes - until berries begin to pop.  Stir in sugar and set aside. 
Saute leeks in butter over low heat about 25 minutes.  Stir frequently.  Add cranberries and liquid and cook another 3-5 minutes.  Cool and salt and pepper to taste.

Here is a similar recipe with a wonderful name - from Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet.  She suggests baking this dish not more than 8 hours before serving for best results.  Use an ovenproof skillet to avoid extra dishwashing
Pearls and Rubies
1 1/2 pounds pearl onions (peel by dropping into boiling water for 2 minutes to soften skins.  Slice off root ends and skins will slip off)
1 T. butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cook onions in butter in skillet until they are lightly browned.  Turn occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add sugar, salt, pepper, cranberries and broth.  Place skillet in the oven, uncovered and bake for about 30 minutes.
Cranberry condiments

Traditional whole cranberry sauce
Boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar for about 5 minutes.  Add one 12 ounce bag (about 3 cups) cranberries and simmer another 10 minutes - until the berries pop.  Cool.  Store in refrigerator for up to a week.
Try this with acorn or sweet dumpling or other smaller squash.  Just cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, add about 1/3 cup whole cranberry sauce mixed with 1 t. port into the cavity.  Place in baking dish, cover and bake at 350 degrees until squash is tender.

Cranberry chutney
This is wonderful with any kind of meat or poultry.  It also would be a good complement to pasta or rice dishes made with squash, potatoes, beets, cabbage or carrots.  This will keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator for many weeks.
2 cups chopped apples (Haralson would be good)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup sweet red pepper, chopped
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup cider or white vinegar
1/2 cup golden or dark raisins
1 t. minced fresh garlic
1 T fresh grated ginger
hot red pepper flakes to taste
Simmer all ingredients in a non reactive pot about half an hour - until apples are tender.  Refrigerate at least a day before eating.

Cranberry salsa
Add the following to 2 cups of whole cranberry sauce:  1 T chopped fresh hot peppers, 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro, 1 t. cumin, 1 T fresh lime juice, 1 clove minced fresh garlic, 1/2 cup chopped red onion

Cranberry sauce for cooked beets
Mix 1 cup cranberry juice, 1 T cornstarch and 1 T. sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir until thickened.  Add 1 t. grated orange zest.  Mix with sliced or chopped cooked beets.
(Try adding some extra sugar and using this as a topping for pancakes or gingerbread)

Cranberry vinaigrette
This can be used on salad greens or with blanched vegetables as a marinade.  I think it would be good with as a salad with cooked carrots or brussels sprouts.  You might try it with finely sliced red and green cabbage as a slaw.  Add a few dried cranberries for a double cranberry treat.
1/2 cup olive or walnut oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup whole cranberry sauce
2 t. Dijon type mustard
1 T. real maple syrup or honey or sugar
1/2 t. salt  (Or more to taste)
1/8 t. pepper
Mix until smooth in a blender or food processor.

Baking with fresh cranberries

Dried cranberries can be used just like raisins in zillions of recipes for cookies, muffins, quickbreads and granolas.  I like to use fresh cranberries in baking - the flavor has more zing.
This recipe won a prize at the 2010 Wisconsin State Fair
Cranberry walnut banana bread

2 medium bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 t. grated orange zest
2 c. flour (whole wheat pastry flour is nice to use)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, cut in half (I know, I know, this is a pain.  But it is better than chopping in a food processor)
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and orange zest.  Stir in mashed bananas.  Stir in dry ingredients.  Add cranberries and nuts, stirring to mix well.  Put batter into two greased 9 x 5 pans and bake 60-70 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

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