Cranberries: Fun Food Facts (and Recipe!)
Published: Tue, 22 Dec 2015
Cranberries are as central to Christmas as boughs of Holly and chestnuts roasting on open fires, yet few people know anything about them or how to eat them except in a jellied cranberry sauce. Read on for where cranberries come from and how to include them in your holiday fare on an 80/10/10 diet.
One Cup of Whole Cranberries (100 grams) contains 46 calories. 94% carbs, 2% fat, 3% protein
It’s almost certain that cranberry sauce was on the menu at the first American Thanksgiving. Cranberries were an important part of Native American life. They were eaten fresh, dried into cakes, or boiled with maple syrup, and used to dye clothes and blankets. It’s likely that cranberries saved the first pilgrims from dying of scurvy – medical wisdom at the time held that the sour flavor of cranberries “pulled out” the excess salt from diets dominated by salted fish and game. Long before we understood that cranberries are unusually high in vitamin C, sailors packed barrels of cranberries for long voyages to prevent scurvy.
It was a sailor who first cultivated the cranberries growing wild on his property in Massachusetts. In 1816, Captain Henry Hall transplanted cranberries into fenced gardens and began experimenting. By 1820 he had several varieties of cranberries, including one he called “jumbo” that he shipped to Boston and New York City. However, it wasn’t until 1912 that the first cranberry sauce was canned and marketed to Americans for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Where and How Cranberries Grow:
Cranberries are native to the eastern half of the United States, from Maine south to North Carolina. They grow low to the ground on long runners that up to six feet long but no more than about 10 inches high. They attractive plants and make great edible ornamentals for hanging baskets; with shiny green leaves that turn red, purple or brown in the winter, pretty pink, unusual flowers in the spring, and festive sprigs of red berries in the fall.
The pilgrims called them “cranberries.” The name was either inspired by the fact that cranberries grow in marshy areas where they were consumed by cranes, or by the unusual shape of the flowers, called “reflexed” in botany. Cranberry flowers have petals that face backwards toward the stem, leaving the stamen and anthers exposed and thrust forward like the beak and head of a crane.
Contrary to popular belief and Ocean Spray commercials, cranberries don’t grow submerged in water, with the berries and branches afloat like lily pads. All cranberries are grown on dry, if boggy land. Cranberries for eating fresh are actually dry-harvested too, using machines. Sometimes these berries are airlifted by helicopters out of the fields to reduce damage to plants by trucks. Only cranberry fields designated for sauce or juice are flooded so the floating berries can be corralled in one corner of the field.
A Few Varieties:
The type of cranberry grown differs by region, so take a look at the back of your cranberry package to guess which variety you’ve purchased, or get in touch with a farmer in your area and ask for the sweetest variety he has.
Stevens: Now the most common cranberry variety, Stevens comprise 50% of all cranberries grown in Wisconsin and 75% grown in Oregon. They are a cross between a wild cranberry and a McFarlin variety made in 1938, and were selected by H.F. Hain for their large size and disease resistance.
Early Black: These smaller, intensely-colored berries are also sweeter than most cranberry varieties. They’re common in Massachusetts, where they were discovered in 1852, because they ripen in early September and can be harvested before the frost.
Howes: The very first cranberry variety ever cultivated, these berries were discovered by Eli Howes in 1843 in East Dennis, Massachusetts. They are harvested three weeks after Early Black, but have larger, firmer berries (that are also more tart) that hold their shape when sliced and store well. About 30% of cranberries grown in Massachusetts are Howes.
Sweetie: NThis naturally sweet variety hasn’t left its test plots at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s the first cranberry variety bred to be sweet enough to eat fresh, like cherries. NPR’s The Salt tasted it this fall, and described it as crisp and sweet-tart, like a granny smith apple.
Christmas Cranberry-Pineapple “Mimosa”
Every parent needs a little pick me up after Santa’s finished his rounds. Try this refreshing, zingy drink Christmas morning, perfect for both big and little kids.
- 1 pineapple
- 4 oranges
- 1 cup cranberries
Holiday Cranberry Sauce
Make this cranberry sauce as a side dish for a celery based salad or alongside a scoop of a “mashed cauliflower.”
- 1 cup dried mango or pineapple, edible portions
- 1 apple, grated
- 16 oz bag of cranberries (about 4 cups, 1 cup reserved)
- ½ cup orange juice
- Grated orange peel, for garnish (optional)