Friday, December 2, 2011

All About Cranberries

The holidays are a time for celebration. And nothing features quote so prominently in holiday foods and decorations as the cranberry. You can find cranberries on your holiday table not only in the form of food, but in the flower arrangements or design of your table cloth. What is it about this fruit that makes it so special, and why is it so common during the holiday season?

History of the Cranberry
Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food, and most likely taught the pilgrims how to use them. One of the reasons why we use it still today in our Thanksgiving meal is because it most likely played a role in the first Thanksgiving of 1607 and in subsequent Thanksgiving celebrations. The tradition has lasted more than four-hundred years and become a staple part of the traditional meal eaten today.

Cranberries grow on evergreen shrubs and have berries that grow larger than the actual leaves of the plant. The fruits are full of nutrients and antioxidants, which are stellar for your health. Not surprisingly due to our history with them, the U.S. is the leading producer of cranberries. The state of Wisconsin provides over half of U.S. production. Cranberries are harvested in the fall, coinciding perfectly with the holiday season.

Use in Food
Cranberries can be used in a wide variety of foods. The most recognized are cranberry sauce, cranberry juice, and Craisins(dried cranberries). Craisins are featured in tons of foods, from muffins to a chocolate-covered treat, to cookies or cake. Cranberry juice is often consumed in pure form or combined with other juices such as apple or grape. Of course, since cranberries are a bitter fruit, a good amount of sugar is necessary to make most cranberry products palatable.

Cranberry sauce, the treat consumed by most Americans on Thanksgiving day, is actually quite easy to make from fresh cranberries. The cranberry fruit naturally has pectin, the compound that makes foods gelatin-like. By boiling fresh whole cranberries with sugar in a small amount of water until the skins burst, the natural pectin will be released and the cranberry sauce will become thick as it cools. Fresh cranberry sauce can be served warm or cold and can be flavored with sugar or honey to taste. Another option is to boil the cranberries in orange juice and not water to make it a cranberry-orange sauce.

Use in décor
Cranberries have not only become something we eat, but a symbol of the holiday season. Branches of the cranberry bush, with red berries still attached are commonly used in fresh floral arrangements. False versions are also common for use in wreaths or garlands. The image of a cranberry bunch can be found in all types of holiday designs such as that found on dinnerware, table clothes, christmas cards, ornaments, and any other Christmas-related decoration.

As you can see, cranberries are an important part of American society, as well as Canadian and many European ones as well. And not only is it symbolic of the trials our forebears suffered, but is incredibly good for your health and easy to cook with. This holiday season, don't forget the cranberries!

About the Author
Natalie Clive writes for My Colleges and Careers is a resource for students looking to learn more about the best online universities and how they can earn an online college degree.