Cranberry Recipes for Thanksgiving

Try our recipes for this Thanksgiving staple, including spiced cranberry relish, cranberry cake, and apple-cranberry crunch.

| November/December 1990

Before the Europeans stepped foot on North American soil, the Native American inhabitants of the continent were well versed in the harvesting and preparation of the cranberry. The round red berries grew wild in marshes and bogs along the East Coast. Although not unknown in England, cranberries were effectively introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans, who used them for medicine and dyes as well as food. (The early settlers called the berries "crane berries," because the white blossom and stem resembled the head and neck of a crane.)

The Native Americans taught the Pilgrims to crush the berries with stones, combine them with dried meat and fat drippings and form small cakes out of the mixture. These cakes, called pemmican, kept well and were eaten throughout the winter.

Americans have been devising new cranberry recipes ever since. And in the state where the Pilgrims harvested berries growing abundantly in the wild, the fruit has evolved into a viable commercial crop. More than half of the cranberries eaten in the U.S. today are grown on Cape Cod. The cranberry is also an important crop in the northwestern states, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

Cranberries are grown in cooperation with nature, in a manner that our immigrant and Native American ancestors would recognize and applaud. Pesticide use is minimal; instead, geese weed the bogs and swallows harvest the unfriendly bugs. Some growers also place beehives near the bogs to promote pollination. The berries are proof that organic farming, like Thanksgiving, is a treasured part of our heritage.

Harvested in September, fresh berries are readily available throughout the country in the fall. The fruit will keep between four and eight weeks if refrigerated when bought. Like most berries, they should never be washed until just before using or they'll spoil.

One of my favorite cranberry recipes is a simple relish that beautifully shows off the meaty red fruit:

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