Resourceful tribes found cranberries not only useful for food, but could be utilized as medicine and for preparation of household items. Many tribes mashed the cranberries and mixed them with dried meat to create pemmican that could be kept for a long period of time without spoiling. Medicine men used the berries to create a poultice for treating arrow wounds. Women used them to create natural fabric dyes for clothes, blankets, and rugs. At tribal feasts Chief Pakimintzen of the Lenni-Lappes distributed cranberries as a symbol of peace.
No one is certain whether the first Thanksgiving dinner included cranberries, but what is certain is that cranberries were in wide use before the new settlers arrived. Cranberries originally grew wild in the northern part of the country, and were harvested from September to December. It's possible that the early Americans found them reminiscent of the larger species native to Europe. The cultivated varieties we grow today are much larger than those harvested by the natives.
One of the early settlers in New Jersey wrote to his brother in England in 1680 telling him how cranberries could be made into a sauce and how they were even better than cherries or gooseberries for making tarts.
In the late 1700's before cranberries were cultivated, families would pick the wild berries for their dinner tables. Anyone who picked the berries before they were ripe was penalized. In 1789 the New Jersey legislature passed a law fining anyone 10 shillings for picking cranberries before October 10.
For many years folk medicine practitioners prescribed cranberry juice for urinary tract infections. The theory was that the juice made the urine so acidic bacteria would not grow. This practice was treated as folklore by many in the medical profession who have called it unreliable as a preventative and not a treatment. Today, many women who use natural remedies rely on the juice of the unsweetened cranberry or a powdered cranberry extract formed into a caplet for treatment of urinary tract infections
Cranberries are one of the few crops that can survive in acidic peat soil. They need plenty of water. Once a vine is planted it will continue to produce for many years. Some vines between 75 and 100 years old are still producing a crop.
Nutritionally, one cup of cranberries provides 14 mg of Vitamin C, 71 mg of Potassium, and only 49 calories. Calories can be kept low by cooking the berries with sweeter fruits and fruit juice concentrates.
STORING: Cranberries have excellent storing abilities. They stay fresh about 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer.
COOKING: Cranberries have great versatility. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your repertoire: Prepare a spiced punch by first cooking the berries into a juice by combining 1 pound of cranberries with 4 cups of water in a stock pot. Cook covered over high heat until cranberries are soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool and either strain for a clear liquid or put them into the blender in batches to retain the whole fruit. Blend until pureed. Return to the pot and add 1 stick of cinnamon, 5 allspice berries, 5 or 6 whole cloves and sweetener of your choice. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes and serve hot in punch cups.
Incorporate chopped fresh cranberries into a quick bread.
Cranberries can be baked in the oven. Put a 12-oz. package of cranberries into a baking dish. Add 1 cup water and sweetener of your choice. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Bake cranberries into an apple pie using 4 large tart apples, 1 cup cranberries, and 1/2 cup raisins. Proceed as for any apple pie.
Prepare a sorbet by cooking a 12-oz. package of cranberries in 1 cup of water until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool. Add to blender in batches along with sweetener of your choice. Pour into a metal loaf pan and freeze. Allow to sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving, or put through the blender or food processor to soften before serving.
RAW: Chopped fresh cranberries add a refreshing touch to a bowl of salad greens. Add your favorite dressing and enjoy.
Cranberry relish takes on new life by using a tangerine in place of an orange and adding some chopped nuts. Start by putting a 12-oz. package of cranberries and 1 chopped tangerine into the food processor. Pulse chop until finely minced. Turn out into a bowl and add sweetener of your choice and some chopped walnuts.
Following are two unique cranberry recipes.
Chestnut and Cranberry Fanfare is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.
Yield: 6 servings