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Cranberries...The Holiday Fruit

Turkey may be the main part of your holiday meal, but it wouldn't be the same without cranberry sauce.

Nashville, Ark. – For most people, Thanksgiving means turkey. While the turkey is a main part of the holiday meal, it wouldn’t be the same without cranberry sauce. However, it is unlikely that cranberry sauce was on the menu the first Thanksgiving. Cranberry sauce requires sugar, which was in short supply in those early days. Today, cranberry sauce is a staple at most Thanksgiving dinners.

            Today, fresh cranberries rarely are eaten for 10 months of the year. We may eat canned jellied cranberry sauce, cranberry juice or dried sweetened cranberries, but not the wonderful, tart, fresh cranberry. So from October thru December take advantage of fresh berries in the produce aisle at your favorite grocery store.

            The American Cranberry is native to North America and grows wild from Canada as far south as the mountains in North Carolina. Cranberries are cultivated commercially only in Canada and five states: Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin, where the berry is native; and Washington and Oregon, to which cranberries were introduced from Massachusetts.

            Fresh whole berries are more expensive because they have to be hand-picked to avoid the damage caused by machine-picking. When choosing fresh cranberries to purchase, pick up the bag and inspect it. Look to see that the berries are shiny, plump and range in color from bright light red to dark red. If the package has several berries that are soft, put it back and choose another package.

            When you are ready to use the cranberries, wash them gently by rubbing them under running tap water. Discard shriveled berries or those with brown spots. Good, ripe cranberries will bounce, which is why they are nicknamed “bounce berries”.

            Fresh cranberries should be stored in a tightly-sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. As with all berries, if one starts getting soft and decaying, the others will quickly soften and decay also. Be sure to sort out the soft ones, if you plan to store them for more than a few days.

            Fresh cranberries may last from 2 weeks up to 2 months in the refrigerator. Cooked cranberries can last up to a month in a covered container in the refrigerator. Washed cranberries may be frozen for up to 1 year in airtight bags. You may substitute sweetened dried cranberries for fresh or frozen cranberries in baked recipes.

            Cranberries contain about 25 calories in ½ cup of fresh berries and 10% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, plus plenty of natural antioxidants. Fresh cranberries contain no cholesterol, virtually no fat and very little sodium.

            Whole fresh cranberries and any foods that are hard, round or difficult to chew can sometimes lodge in small airways, causing a child to choke. Before serving cranberries to a child under age three, always chop the raw berry or cook them until they are tender.

            There is nothing to compare to fresh cranberry sauce. Consider making some this holiday season. You will find a basic recipe on the back of the package of cranberries. It takes about 15 minutes to make and in my opinion is so much better than the jellied cranberry sauce from the can.

            Try cranberries all year long, not only at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Chicken and pork dishes are great with fresh cranberry relish for a nice change.

            For more information on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your holiday meal contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517. I will be glad to send you the USDA food fact sheet, “Countdown to the Thanksgiving Meal”. It has everything you need to know about preparing your turkey safely, general food safety tips and storing leftovers. You can also visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

            This is a great recipe for holiday meals. Since this recipe is made with some recipe substitutions including using a sugar substitute, diabetics can enjoy this holiday favorite.

Cranberry Salad

1 (9 oz.) can crushed unsweetened pineapple, juice packed*

1 (3 oz.) sugar-free cherry gelatin

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Sugar substitute equivalent to ¼ cup sugar

1 cup fresh cranberries, ground

1 small orange, peeled, quartered and ground*

1 cup chopped celery

½ cup pecans or other nuts, broken into pieces (optional)

            Drain the juice from the pineapple and save it. Set the pineapple aside for later use. Combine the pineapple juice with water to equal 2 cups liquid. Set aside.

            Prepare the gelatin according to the directions on the package using the juice-water mixture for the liquid. One the gelatin is dissolved, stir in the lemon juice. Chill it until it’s partially set.

            In a separate bowl, combine the pineapple, sugar substitute, cranberries, orange, celery and nuts. Add this mixture to the partially set gelatin and stir it until blended. Pour the mixture into a large mold, several smaller molds or into a glass bowl. Chill it until it is firm.

*Note: Do not use fresh or frozen pineapple in this recipe. It will prevent the gelatin from jelling. You may use a small can of mandarin oranges in place of the fresh orange. Drain and chop the oranges before adding to the recipe.

Nutrition Information per Serving with Nuts: Calories: 80; sodium: 27 milligrams; carbohydrate: 11 grams; dietary fiber: 2 grams; protein: 1 gram; fat: 3 grams. Exchanges: 1 fruit, ½ fat

Nutrition Information per Serving without Nuts: Calories: 35; sodium: 27 milligrams; carbohydrate: 10 grams; dietary fiber: 1 grams; protein: ½ gram; fat: 0 grams. Exchanges: 1 fruit

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517

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