Cranberries are a familiar, even essential, part of a traditional American holiday meal, but they’ve been unfairly pigeonholed, relegated to the winter months to serve as a mere condiment to more “important” dishes. These tart little gems deserve year-round notice, if not reverence. They are native to Minnesota; indigenous peoples ate them and used them for medicine. Recent research has revealed the cranberry to be full of phytonutrients—anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer thingamabobs. That’s some mighty impressive trivia; but what really matters to us is that they’re delicious, distinctive and versatile. We’ve got a wealth of brilliant cranberry concoctions in these parts; here are eight of our favorites, for your health and for your pleasure.
Apple Cranberry Pecan Pie
Shawn Smith, the baker par excellence at Eat!, makes everything from scratch, including pies that will make you weak in the knees. He calls them “pie-lets,” and rightfully so: Each one is a perfect serving for one, not to mention cute as all get-out. The apple cranberry pie-let combines sweetened chunks of autumn fruit with classic apple pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove; it’s sealed with an insanely yummy crumble of oatmeal, brown sugar and pecans. Something this thoughtfully prepared should be thoughtfully—nay, reverently—eaten, so show your respect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. $2.95. 2202 Fifth St., White Bear Lake; 651.653.1225.
Café Cravings is known by a host of epithets—“cozy,” “adorable” and “sweet” are a few; indeed, its floral linens and working fireplace could soothe the most savage of beasts. You’ll be charmed, as we were, by the turkey, bacon and cranberry omelet; it’s like the best Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich tucked inside a fluffy pillow of eggs. Add your choice of cheese (Swiss for us, please). The interplay of smoky-salty bacon, sweet-tangy cranberries and chunks of roasted turkey is yummy comfort for the palate. $10.50. 1600 County Road E, White Bear Lake; 651.482.7742.
Cranberry Orange Nut Scone
We’ve noticed several orange-cranberry combinations around town; this scone demonstrates the genius of the pairing. Both fruits have a hint of tartness, and the bright orange citrus looks fantastic with the deep scarlet berries. Grandma’s scones are light, crumbly and not too sweet. $1.50. 2184-B Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651.762.2900.
Twin Pine Farms Field Greens
One of the most popular ways to eat cranberries is on a salad. The advent of “craisins,” a brilliant piece of food marketing, changed our salad landscape forever more. At Ingredients, a fresh bed of Twin Pine Farm’s greens hosts a beguiling combination of berries, pungent bleu cheese crumbles, crunchy sunflower seeds and perky lime vinaigrette. $6 small, $9 large. 4725 Highway 61, White Bear Lake; 651.426.6611.
The Most Interesting Drink in the World
The cranberry’s astringent quality nicely mimics that of alcohol, especially vodka. Check out “The Most Interesting Drink in the World” at Manitou Station’s lively bar. The name is a riff on the enigmatic “most interesting man in the world” beer commercial, and the drink is indeed interesting in the sense that it’s engagingly delicious. Finlandia cranberry vodka bursts with an intense essence of the fruit; it’s muddled with cucumber, fresh crushed mint leaves, simple syrup and lime juice in a pint glass—practically a salad within a drink. $8. 2171 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651.426.2300.
Cranberry Walnut Balsamic Vinegar
This shop is a foodie’s paradise. It’s impossible to just pop in and grab something; expect to get sucked into a riotous kaleidoscope of oils, vinegars and all the specialty foods you can imagine. The cranberry walnut balsamic is a curious-sounding mash-up of distinctly American flavors in a classic Italian product, but once you try it you’ll understand its genius. The nuttiness of the walnut jibes with the sweetness of the vinegar; the cranberry picks up on the acidic notes. Delish! $6 for 100 ml, $10 for 250 ml and $14 for 375 ml. 4762 Banning Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.621.5998.