Ellie Wilson, MS, RDN, Senior Nutritionist
Cranberries, with their sassy piquant flavor and ruby tones, are a wonderful addition to any meal or snack. You will find them fresh in stores each year as we head into the holidays for a good reason – they have a long growing season, March to October, so right now they are peak season!
Cranberries grow wild in the optimal natural setting of kettle ponds full of decaying plant debris, (eventually peat) scoured from the landscape by departing glaciers. American Indians, specifically Wampanoag People, found many uses for them, and shared some of them with early settlers. Those settlers gave the berries their current name, an adaptation of “craneberries”, describing the look of the plant and flower, which is reminiscent of the neck and bill of the Sandhill crane. Cranberries became the fruit of choice for sailors and others, as it was noted they warded off scurvy – due to their excellent Vitamin C content.
Cranberries have are quite versatile – the original “to-go” meal when used to make jerky-like pemmican, they were also used for coloring rugs and textiles, as well as medicinal uses. Modern medicine has, in fact, proven that compounds in cranberry juice have anti-bacterial action, as well as bioactive compounds that may have anti-cancer properties, like proanthocyanins. The red color of the berry itself is a bioactive compound we benefit from.
A former Revolutionary War captain, Dennis Hall, is credited with moving it from wild berry to farming. The industry has grown from Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod to similar marshy regions in New England and other states, like Washington and Oregon, and it continues to innovate, with sustainability at its core. Even more exciting are the wonderful recipes that can be found from all over the country, traditional and new, that invite people of all ages to try them and enjoy the taste and benefits of our American super-berry.
Check these recipes out, and make cranberries part of your traditions all year long!