Enjoy the pleasant bitterness of fresh cranberries with sausages and thyme in this quick English dinner recipe.
You’ll have to act quickly. Any day now, fresh cranberries will disappear from produce departments across the country, not to reappear until sometime next November. Yet these tart ruby berries are more than just a gratuitous condiment to our holiday turkey dinners. They were a staple in the lives of Native Americans — both nutritionally and medicinally - and still have much to offer us today.
why eat fresh cranberries?
Cranberries were shared with European settlers upon their arrival in America, and the fruit’s high levels of Vitamin C and antioxidants surely helped aid in their survival.
Today’s research suggests that the unique qualities of cranberries may prove beneficial in several ways, from acting as an anti-inflammatory to providing immune and UTI protection. It’s no surprise then that colonists began growing their own cranberries for commercial use by the mid-19th century.
is cranberry juice good for you?
Yes and no. Fresh cranberries were once the most common way people consumed the fruit. But that changed in the 1930s when cranberry juice rose in popularity. It’s estimated that 95 percent of the cranberries grown today go towards juice production.
The bitter truth about this, however, is that most cranberry juice in stores today (often labeled as a cocktail blend) contains more sugar per ounce than most sodas. In this case, the sugar outweighs the beneficial qualities of the cranberries. You can find some 100% cranberry juices, though they can be harder to find. And expect a higher price. After all, you are getting more fruit juice and less water and sugar.
avoid most dried cranberries
Sadly, dried cranberries suffer from the same predicament. Just try to find a dried cranberry without added sugar. It's nearly impossible. Craisins and their unbranded counterparts are, in fact, nothing like raisins, which are naturally sweet and don’t come with the added sugar.
Instead, you can replace your dried fruit supply with raisins, currants, apricots, and others that don’t have such high levels of unnecessary sweetness. Of course, you could always dry your own cranberries, but not everyone has the time for that.
That means that not only have we dismissed fresh cranberries to a once per year appearance — assuming most of us buy fresh cranberries and don’t open a can at the holiday dinner — the only other times we consume cranberries are when they’re loaded with sugar. The Native Americans would be the first to tell us that we’re doing cranberries all wrong.
Personally, I think cranberries are terribly underrated. Not just for all the health benefits they provide, but because on their own, they bring what I find to be a refreshing sense of bitterness. I know, bitterness is a tough sell. We’re pre-programmed to have a distaste for it. However, bitterness hasn’t stopped us from enjoying coffee, IPAs, arugula, or dark chocolate. While sugary and salty rule our taste buds, we can learn to love bitterness and cranberries as well.
freeze fresh cranberries
How then, do we not eat cranberries drowned in sugar? For starters, snag those last available bags of fresh cranberries and stock your freezer. Whole cranberries freeze just fine and don’t require defrosting before use. You can put entire bags directly into your freezer today and enjoy them throughout the year. I like to get mine at my Co-op grown locally by The Vermont Cranberry Company.
how to enjoy fresh cranberries
Second, when cooking or baking with fresh cranberries, consider the amount of suggested sweetener in recipes. I don’t think we need to stop sweetening cranberries altogether, but I don’t think we need to go to such extremes. Try cutting back on the sugar and allow the presence of bitterness to come through.
That also means we should probably forgo the cranberry juice cocktail and dried cranberries. Or, at least, we should significantly limit their consumption. Unless, of course, you can find either unadulterated and at a reasonable price.
Third, is that we should look for more creative ways to use cranberries. Don’t get me wrong, I love cranberry sauce when reasonably sweetened, but one can only eat so much.
Fortunately, as I searched for new ideas, a recipe from one of my favorite food writers, Nigel Slater, popped up last week in his column in The Guardian. He combines sausages and cranberries in a Yorkshire pudding. Though it has pudding in the name, it's no dessert. Yorkshire pudding is practically the same thing we call a popover.
The combination of sausage and cranberry is unexpected, yet beautiful. The cranberries' tartness cuts the fat and richness of the sausage and makes an excellent quick dinner with a side salad. Think of this as a large savory popover filled with cranberries and sausage. Leave it to the English to bring us some sense of sanity to us sugar-loving Americans.Print