Cranberry Recipes: Create a Cranberry Feast

The “ruby of the bog” is the star attraction in a variety of cranberry recipes that will add a burst of color and a bundle of flavor to your holiday fare.

  • 072 cranberry recipes
    Cranberry sauce, cranberry crêpes, and cranberry eggnog are among the cranberry recipes you can prepare for the holidays.

  • 072 cranberry recipes

Early autumn, when the often warm and hazy days are followed by cool nights and frosty mornings, heralds the end of the harvest season. And a bit later, as the trees blaze into a brilliant display of color, nature puts its finishing touches on the plump crimson berries in local cranberry bogs. In our household, the appearance of the bright berries — from late September and on through the drowsy Indian summer days of October and November — is the signal to don old clothing, pull on waterproof galoshes, grab some buckets, and embark on our annual cranberry-picking outing (and begin dreaming of the mouth watering meals that the little ruby fruits will contribute so much to).

This autumn excursion — along with preparing cranberry recipes — has become a regular tradition in our family and was once a common practice among our forebears. The cranberry has played a rich part in this country’s heritage. The tart fruit was an important ingredient in pemmican, the “convenience food” carried by many native Americans, and its juice was used as a dye for clothing and blankets. Several tribes also made cranberry poultices, with which to draw venom from poisoned-arrow wounds. In addition, the fruit was sometimes offered as a symbol of peace (it’s believed that the Indians presented the Pilgrims with gifts of cranberries).

And European settlers were quick to recognize the excellent qualities of the berry. Water-packed barrels of the fruit (which we now know to be rich in vitamin C) were taken on board oceangoing ships to help prevent scurvy. Early colonists also gave the cranberry its common name: It seems that they thought the delicate pink blossoms resembled the nodding heads of cranes. “Crane berry” was later shortened to the moniker we use today.

Foraging for wild cranberries continued to be a common autumn activity as the Pilgrim settlements grew into thriving towns. The fruits began to ripen at the end of the growing season, and — as a celebration of the harvest — whole communities would assemble at peat bogs and gather the crimson fruit as one of the last social events before winter’s chill set in for good. (In fact, cranberry picking was so popular that many villages actually levied a fine on anyone who was caught harvesting the fruit before the season was officially open!)

Nowadays, this member of the Ericaceae (heath) family is cultivated — in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington — in peat swamps that have been drained of water, leveled, spread with a thin layer of sand, and planted with cuttings of the cranberry vine. However, you can recapture the festive atmosphere of early pioneer days by foraging for wild cranberries — as our family does — and using your harvest of the colorful crop to create some downright delicious additions to holiday meals!

The large American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) grows wild throughout the northeastern United States and westward to Minnesota and Arkansas. Here on the West Coast, though. the Pacific cranberry (V. oxycoccus) is more common in the wild. Although it’s smaller than the domesticated variety, we think the forageable fruit has an especially delightful tangy flavor. You can find the red or mottled red-and-white berries of this low shrub-like creeping plant in areas with acid soil, including sphagnum moss bogs and wet, woody river banks. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Be certain, of course, to consult a wild foods guide or accompany an experienced cranberry hunter on foraging expeditions.] And once you’ve collected a bucketful of the ruby beauties (or, if necessary, bought a supply of them), try the following recipes to fill your kitchen with a bonanza of cranberry creations!

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