a test kitchen dossier
It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it.
— Alistair Cook
Etymology: From craneberry, probably because the plant’s flower resembles the head of a crane.
Area of Origin
Slightly different species originated in Northern Europe and Asia, the Northeastern area of the United States and Canada, and the Southeastern part of the United States. The definitive origin is unknown.
We say cranberry, you say Thanksgiving. Don’t worry, we’re not going to suggest anything crazy like not having cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving; we’re only suggesting that you look beyond cranberry sauce to all of the wonderful flavors and textures this pretty little berry can create. Powerful, even overwhelming, cranberries can begin to seem a little unapproachable; but cranberries are not meant to play alone. Just as red berries appear more beautiful against a background of green leaves or fresh snow, the flavor of cranberries truly comes alive when combined with other autumn and winter delights.
It is now common knowledge that a little orange juice and orange zest really make a simple cranberry sauce sing, so why not doctor up a holiday orange cake (or better yet, an orange-spice cake) with chopped fresh cranberries? Or toss some baby spinach with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and a blood orange vinaigrette. You could even simmer some cranberries (dried or fresh) in red wine and a little sugar, then spoon the sauce over vanilla ice cream. Cranberries also pair beautifully with apples, chocolate and nuts, so let your imagination run wild (and don’t forget to take a look at our cranberry recipes below!).
Remember, cranberries helped Native Americans and European settlers make it through torturous Northeastern winters, so this wonder-fruit is a potent little reminder that even in the chilly weather there are plenty of fresh, seasonal delicacies to enjoy.
Cranberries have a lot to live up to. According to common mythology, they are not only one of the three fruits native to North America, but they were also served at the first Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, these myths are less than accurate. Cranberries weren’t solely native to North America, and the Native Americans ate many fruits besides the cranberry, blueberry and Concord grape. While it is true that the Native Americans introduced European settlers to cranberries, there is no specific evidence that they were served at the first Thanksgiving.
Ironically, this oh-so-American fruit has actually been eaten all over the world for centuries; cranberries have been eaten in the Arctic for thousands of years. A closely related fruit, the lingonberry, is extremely popular in Russia, Norway and Sweden. Wild cranberries once grew in Scotland, but have become almost extinct there.
Many Native American tribes ate cranberries, and sometime around 1620 they introduced them to the European settlers. While the settlers clearly took to the fruit — cranberry sauce was an early Thanksgiving staple, even if it was absent from the original day — it did not become extremely popular until sugar was readily available. In recent years the cranberry’s popularity has only grown as nutritionists have begun to proclaim the benefits of eating this “super-fruit.” More evidence for what we already knew: Anything that tasty had to be good for us!
Forms of Cranberries
Fresh cranberries are generally available from September to December.
Fresh cranberries can be frozen at home, and will keep up to nine months; they can also be used directly in recipes without thawing.
While you can make your own dried cranberries, they won’t be as sweet as commercially available versions. Dried cranberries are great in salads, baked goods, sauces, or as a snack. Just think of them as raisins with a little extra “zing!”
While unsweetened cranberry juice is available, the cranberry juice you typically drink is either sweetened or mixed with other juices. Cranberry juice is a bar staple, used in classics from the Cosmopolitan to the Seabreeze.
Caramelized Napoleon with Sage & Cranberry
Chocolate Cranberry Jam
Provocachic (SM) Cosmopolitan
Sage Stuffed Pork Chops with Cranberry Glaze
Spiced Cranberry & Orange Relish
Upside-Down Cranberry Cornbread
Steven Raichlen’s A Celebration of the Seasons
Photo: Kelly Cline
Dossier by China Millman