Embrace the magic of the season’s favorite superfruit.
Cranberries for Thanksgiving sounds like a sequel to the children’s book Blueberries for Sal. In the classic story, Sal and her mother pick berries to can for the winter, a tradition of harvesting and the encounters of a child that leaves delighted readers with a hankering to wander fields, collecting buckets and stories of their own.
Just across Minnesota’s eastern border, cranberry growers celebrate their own harvest traditions, raking through water-logged bogs to collect their crops for distribution all over the country.
Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of cranberries. In fact, it is believed half of the world’s crop is grown in the Badger State, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WSCGA). Though a wobbly, can-shaped gel at the holidays may be what pops to mind, the tart, red berry starts out growing on a shrub and trailing on vines in bogs supported by cool, marshy conditions. The cranberry flower produces young white fruits, which mature to their infamous deep red color before the fall harvest. Because they float—the cranberries are grown dry but harvested flooded—farmers learned long ago to flood their bogs and marshes, making fruit collection easier.
Late September into early October, when autumn’s leaves complement the glowing red fruits, cranberry farmers wrap up their season in the fields. Though the harvest has finished this year, a Saturday road trip along Wisconsin’s Cranberry Highway will typically take curious cranberry lovers on a self-guided route about 50 miles long across central Wisconsin’s cranberry growing region. Amid the centuries-old cranberry beds, visitors can travel from Warrens (thought of as the cranberry capital of the state located just south of Eau Claire) to Wisconsin Rapids to see and sample the staple that will then find its way to Thanksgiving tables around the country.
While on the road, make a stop at Wetherby Cranberry Company in Warrens, where the family has grown cranberries for more than 100 years. Then, visit the cranberry museum at Discover Cranberries to observe a 1920s-era cranberry sorting mill and fresh fruit picking line. Warrens Cranberry Festival takes place the last full weekend in September—and it celebrated its 50th anniversary celebration this year—so a visit at the peak of the season is always a taste-filled outing.
Reap the Benefits
These colorful fruits are native to North America and were introduced by Native Americans to the early colonists, who brought them to the European trade markets. The Algonquian tribes called cranberries sassamanash and used them for dyes and wound care, as well as part of a healthy staple of their diets, according to the WSCGA.
With fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and polyphenols, it’s easy to see why they’re categorized by nutritionists as a super fruit. These heart healthy gems are packed with antioxidants and antimicrobial benefits. Research from the Cranberry Institute shows the flavonoids and phytonutrients in these little red fruits can help with obesity, hypertension and diabetes, as well as urinary tract infections. If fresh cranberries are hard to find, the Cranberry Institute suggests an 8 oz. serving of 27 percent or more cranberry juice cocktail to get an even swap of healthful benefits.
Let’s Face It
In Stillwater, cranberry seed oil is the foundation of the products created by esthetician and Stillwater Skin & Medical Spa owner Amy Haugen, who started using the superfruit’s oil more than 15 years ago to help her with acne and dry skin. Her toxin-free, certified-vegan skin care line now includes nearly 30 products that incorporate cranberry seed oil to help with everything from skin cleansing and rejuvenation to acne treatment, moisturizing and scar care.
“Cranberries are rich in vitamins,” Haugen says. “Their seeds contain vitamins A and E, and Omega 3, 6 and 9. It takes a semi truck of cranberries to cold press out 1 gallon of seed oil.”
By the Numbers
Cranberries pack a powerful punch and an interesting history. According to the WSGCA and the Cranberry Institute:
- More than 1,000 food and beverage products contain cranberries. In fact, it takes about 4,400 cranberries (10 pounds) to make a gallon of juice. About 5 percent of the nation’s crop is sold as fresh fruit, and the rest are turned into sauces, juices, dried fruit and other foods.
- A barrel (100 pounds) became the standard measurement of production of cranberries because of the way they were packaged for shipping to markets in the United States and Europe, according to the Cranberry Institute.
- Legend has it early European settlers called them “crane berries” because the flower of the fruit looked like the head and neck of the sandhill crane.
- Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran, is credited with planting the first commercial cranberry bed in Massachusetts in 1816.
A Splash of Red
Cranberries should headline any and all of this season’s holiday get-togethers. “Cranberries are a family favorite for all occasions,” says Kristi Ryan, Lunds & Byerlys events and demo manager. Whether in a glass or on the table, these tart fruits are key features in some of Lunds & Byerlys favorite recipes. (And they look nothing like your grandmother’s canned variety!)
Cranberry Pomegranate Crostini
- 1 baguette
- ½ cup fresh cranberries, finely chopped
- ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
- 2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 ½ tsp. honey
- goat cheese
- fresh orange zest
- salt and pepper, to taste
Cut a baguette into slices, and toast on a baking sheet in the oven. Next, mix together chopped cranberries, pomegranate seeds, chopped parsley, olive oil and honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread each baguette slice with goat cheese, and top with the cranberry pomegranate mixture. Add fresh orange zest over the top, and serve.
Tip: This crostini is delicious with a cabernet sauvignon.
Cranberry White Chocolate Blondies
- cooking spray
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- ¾ tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 cup frozen cranberries
- ¾ cup white chocolate,
- coarsely chopped
- powdered sugar, for finishing
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray, and line it with parchment paper, allowing two long sides to hang over the edges of the pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking to incorporate between each addition. Whisk in the vanilla extract. In a second large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground cinnamon. Using a rubber spatula, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in two additions, making sure there are no streaks of flour and the batter is smooth. Stir in the cranberries and white chocolate until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a rubber spatula to smooth the top. Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for two hours. Use the long sides of the parchment paper to lift the blondies from the pan. Cut the bars into eight equal squares, then slice the squares in half diagonally to create 16 triangles. Fill a small fine-mesh sieve with powdered sugar and lightly dust the blondies. Leftover blondies can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days.
Sparkling Cranberry Cocktail
For the Cranberry-Rosemary Syrup:
- 1 heaping cup fresh cranberries
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
For the cocktails:
- 4 oz. Cranberry-Rosemary Syrup, divided
- 2 oz. orange juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 750ml bottle Champagne, prosecco or sparkling white wine
- quartered orange slices, cranberries and rosemary sprigs, for garnish
To make the syrup, combine all six ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally until the cranberries burst and release their juices, about five minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain into a glass jar, pressing gently on the cranberries to extract their juices. Transfer the syrup to the refrigerator to cool completely. To make one cocktail, fill a Champagne flute with 1 oz. Cranberry-Rosemary Syrup. Layer with ½ oz. orange juice and top with 6 oz. Champagne. Garnish with an orange slice, a few cranberries and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Repeat with the remaining cocktails, and enjoy!