Cranberry season

November in the US means cranberries in the grocery store.  Actually they’ve been there since early October, but let’s say we start thinking seriously about cranberries in November because Thanksgiving is upon us.  Cranberries are probably second only to turkey as an official Traditional Thanksgiving Food.  Don’t dare omit them.

There are lots of ways to serve cranberries, from canned cranberry jelly — which renders the actual berries unrecognizable — to homemade cranberry relishes, salsas or sauces.  The recipes might be sweet or savory, fresh or cooked, or mixed up with sour cream or other extraneous ingredients.  You can even throw in dried cranberries for extra cranberry oomph.  But regardless of the recipe you use, one thing you always will do is add sugar.  Cranberries are almost inedible without it.  They’re extremely bitter/sour.  It’s amazing anyone ever thought to eat them in the first place, back when sugar was a rare commodity.

Nutritionally, cranberries are known for vitamin C content.  And yes, a cup of whole cranberries has 14 mg of vitamin C, not too bad.  They’re low calorie (46) and modest fiber (3.6 grams) with negligible amounts of protein and fat.  The only other nutrient of any consequence would be vitamin K.  But few people eat a cup of whole fresh cranberries, certainly not unsweetened.  Most of our cranberry consumption now is outside the Thanksgiving season, as dried, or in bakery items or cereal, or dried and coated with chocolate or “yogurt” coating (it’s not really yogurt, people!) or processed into cranberry juice.

My favorite recipe

My general preference for cooking is Keep It Simple.  Why interfere with the unique cranberry flavor by adding a bunch of extraneous stuff that just confuses the taste buds?  Every Thanksgiving I made a very simple cranberry relish that’s so delightful and refreshing that people fight over the leftovers.  The key is to make it a day ahead, which also simplifies life on the day of Thanksgiving.  Here’s the recipe:


  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar (this is slightly less than suggested by recipes on the package)
  • 1 orange, zested, then peeled.
  • 1 large apple (you should get 1-1/2 to 2 cups of chopped apples)

NOTE: I usually double this recipe, in order to have leftovers.

  1. Wash and pick over the cranberries to remove the ones that are mushy.
  2. Process briefly in a food processor just to chop the cranberries.  You don’t want them pulverized.  Put the chopped cranberries in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Mince the orange zest and add to the bowl
  4. Separate the orange sections and chop them into roughly 1/2-inch size pieces.  Add to the bowl.
  5. Cut and core the apple.  Peel it if you prefer.  Chop into roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.  Add to the bowl.
  6. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate until serving time, overnight is highly recommended to allow the fruit and sugar time to mellow and develop flavor.

Here’s another tip: DO NOT use artificial sweetener instead of sugar.  The sugar prevents browning and brings out the juices in the fruit, making the fruit juicy and tender, and is an essential part of the recipe.


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