Welcome back to our very first SOS Kitchen Challenge of the new season! After a slightly protracted summer break, Kim and I are back in fine form with our monthly event that asks you to cook up either sweet or savory recipes using a featured ingredient. Many thanks to all of you who’ve been asking about the event–it feels great to be back!
Our ingredient this month has a humble history, but has recently joined the ranks of “super foods” like blueberries, spinach, and pumpkins. Their ravishing red color is unmistakable and their sweet-tart flavor is unique and versatile. And, they’re just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving (October 10th)–and the start of the fall/winter holiday season in general! Any guesses yet? Okay, okay, we’ll tell you. Our featured ingredient this month is…
Some Cranberry Basics
Cranberries are related to blueberries and grow in sandy bogs in cool climates of the Northern hemisphere. The short shrubby plants have long trailing vines featuring evergreen leaves, distinctive pink flowers, and shiny plump berries. Unripe cranberry fruits are white and the fruits deepen to the characteristic red color as they ripen. Native Americans used cranberries as food, medicine and dye. European settlers quickly caught on to the versatility of cranberries. In fact, they are responsible for the name,”cranberry,” which derives from “crane berry”. The distinctive shape of the wiry stem and flower petals and stamen reminded them of the neck, head, and beak of a crane. American colonialists shipped plants to Europe in the early 1800s, where the cranberry quickly gained popularity throughout Great Britain and Scandinavia.
Kim and I are lucky, as we both live in cranberry country–cranberries are grown throughout southern Canada and in northern portions of the United States. In fact, Kim’s home state of Wisconsin leads the way in U.S. production, pushing out more than 50% of the crop! Kim has often mentioned how she and her family drive through the countryside to find low-lying bogs dotted with shining red berries, how she grew up eating them in a variety of ways (and even once toured the Ocean Spray cranberry plant in Tomah, Wisconsin and the Cranberry Festival in Eagle River, Wisconsin–I’m so envious!). While my own history isn’t quite so cranberry-filled, I do love them and have been enjoying cranberries both fresh and juiced ever since I first embarked on an ACDdiet back in 1999. Today, cranberries in some form are an almost-daily occurrence in my diet.
How to Select and Store Cranberries
Cranberries are in season from October through December, and can be found fresh at grocery stores and green markets. Frozen berries can be found all year round. Almost 95% of the cranberry crop is processed into juice, dried cranberries, and sauces, while the other 5% is sold raw. When selecting fresh, raw cranberries, look for firm fruits that are deep red and free of blemishes. Firmness is a key indicator, and ripe cranberries will actually bounce when you drop them. This trait has earned them the nickname “bounceberries”.
Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or can be frozen for several years (!). If freezing them, rinse the berries, then place in a single layer on a flat baking sheet or pan, and freeze. Remove the frozen berries from the pan and place in a freezer bag and seal tightly. Frozen cranberries can be used as-is in recipes; there is no need to thaw. Cranberry juice should be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for later use. Dried cranberries will keep for 6-12 months if well-sealed.
Culinary and Nutrition Benefits of Cranberries
The fruits are incredibly versatile. Thanks to their sweet-tart flavor, they can be used for a variety of sweet or savory applications. Use them in sauces, chutneys, relishes, smoothies, and in baked goods and other desserts. Dried cranberries are an excellent addition to breads and muffins, granola or meusli, or as a snack on their own. For a savory option, try adding to stuffings, salad dressings, salads, or as a tart flavor element to soups or stews. Cranberry juice can be used to make everything from agar agar molds to punches to flavorful apple cider blends or even Tempeh Bourguignon! Kim and I have both enjoyed using cranberries on our blogs. Check out Kim’s Stevia-Sweetened Apple-Cranberry Sauce or my Stevia-Sweetened Dried Cranberries, for instance. In addition to amazing culinary variety, cranberries pack a lot of nutrition in a small package. They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and dietary fiber.
Additionally, they contain powerful phytonutrients that may help support the cardiovascular system, immune system, and may even reduce the risk of cancer. Cranberries also contain compounds that may help prevent and eliminate bacterial infections of the urinary system, particularly in cases of urinary tract infections. Cranberry pills or unsweetened cranberry juice are often suggested to people (and animals) struggling with UTIs! Cranberries are truly an amazing fruit! Kim and I both think these little red berries pack an admirably powerful punch. And we want to see what you can do with them, too.
So feel free to get cooking and show us your best with cranberries this month!
How to Participate in the SOS Kitchen Challenge
To participate, please adhere to the following guidelines. We hate to remove entries, so PLEASE READ THE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY BEFORE LINKING UP!
- Cook up a recipe–whether yours or someone else’s with credit to them–using cranberries (for our purposes, you can use whole berries, fresh or frozen; dried cranberries; or cranberry juice).
- Your recipe must be made for this event, within the month of the challenge–sorry, no old posts are accepted. Then, post the recipe to your blog (if you don’t have a blog, see instructions below).
- Be sure to mention the event on your post and link to the current SOS page so that everyone can find the collection of recipes. Then, link up the recipe using the linky tool below.
- As a general rule, please use mostly whole foods ingredients (minimally processed with no artificial flavors, colors, prepackaged sauces, etc.). For example, whole grains and whole grain flours; no refined white flours or sugar (but either glutenous OR gluten-free flours are fine).
- Please ensure that recipes are vegan or include a vegan alternative (no animal products such as meat, fish, chicken, milk, yogurt, eggs, honey).
- Please use natural sweeteners (no white sugar, nothing that requires a laboratory to create–such as splenda, aspartame, xylitol, etc.). Instead, try maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, dates, yacon syrup, Sucanat, stevia, etc.
- Feel free to use the event logo on your blog to help promote the event
- Have fun and let your creativity shine!
You may enter as many times as you like, but please submit a separate entry for each recipe, and submit only one entry per blog post.
If you don’t have a blog, you can still participate! Simply email your recipe, or recipe and a photo, to [email protected]. We’ll post it for you.
For all the details (and to view past challenges), check out the SOS Kitchen Challenge page. Deadline for submission is Monday, October 31, 2011.Kim and I look forward to seeing what you do with cranberries this month. It’s good to be back! 😀