Stash a bag or two in your freezer now and reap the benefits all year long.

By Stacey Ballis
December 17, 2019
Photo: Caitlin Bensel Food Styling: Tina Stamos and Gordon Sawyer Prop Styling: Kay Clark

We have to have a conversation about cranberries. Everyone goes cranberry mad from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and then the poor cranberry is shelved as a major player until the following year. And yes, of course, cranberry sauce of every variety from jellied ridged can-shaped to elegant homemade versions is the star of many a holiday buffet, and strings of the fresh fruit are deeply festive garlanded on a tree or swagged on a mantlepiece.

But I want to talk to you about the fact that the cranberry is one of the best fruits to have in your cooking arsenal year-round. not only are they tasty, they're a fabulous source of nutrients and antioxidants. That means they're wonderful for things like granola bars, thrown in kale salads, and even used in fancy non-alcoholic cocktails

Cranberries can be found fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and in juice, which makes it super easy to utilize them in all sort of cooking applications. This time of year is when they're most available fresh, so grab an extra bag. Naturally high in pectin, they are a terrific addition to jam and jelly making, since they set beautifully, and they last well in the freezer, so you can buy fresh and stock up. The juice is wonderful on its own, but also a fun addition to cocktail and mocktail making, since it is not too sweet, and brings some exciting acidity to drinks. The dried fruit can swap in for raisins, currants, or dried cherries in nearly any recipe. You can use it to make cranberry curd for a twist on key lime pie or lemon meringue pie.

Their sweet-tart flavor is complex and allows it to be a fruit that is as comfortable in the savory arena as it is in the sweet. It is a terrific choice when you want to bring some acid to a dish like a Carrot Cranberry Salad or a Cranberry Mustard sauce. You can even make them into Cranberry Salsa.

Plus, Cranberries love meat! Cranberries subtle sweetness and acidic backnote provide just the right bit of sweet and sour to make meaty dishes pop. Cranberry meatballs, cranberry chicken, and even mini corn dogs do well with that little bit of acid. Whether it is adding cranberry to your favorite barbecue sauce recipes or sneaking some dried cranberries into a spicy tagine or a hearty sausage bake, the applications for paring the fruit with all sorts of meat and fowl are nearly limitless

Cranberries are also a wonderful ingredient to bake with. If you have a recipe that calls for any dried fruit, you can swap in cranberries seamlessly. So, whether it is an Oatmeal Raisin cookie, a Currant Pecan Roll, or a Dried Cherry Walnut bread, simply use dried cranberries instead ratio and watch the recipe transform. 

Finally, if you want a home project that will give you months of wonderful cranberry recipes at your fingertips, make cranberry molasses. Similar to pomegranate molasses, this is just an intense reduction of cranberry juice to a thick syrup, which stores in the fridge nearly forever and is a wonderful secret weapon for adding oomph to everything from salad dressing to cocktails to sauces and stews. Any recipe that calls for pomegranate molasses can use cranberry molasses, but it can also swap-in for things like honey or date syrup. To make, just put three cups of unsweetened cranberry juice in a small heavy bottomed pot with four tablespoons of sugar and reduce over medium high heat until you have a thick, molasses-like consistency. Store in the fridge but let come to room temp for 30 to 60 minutes before using. 

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