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Food for Thought
'Tis the Season for Bounceberries
Bounceberries are in season, and I'm proud to say that Washington and Oregon are both commercial producers of these amazing berries. They are high in antioxidants, low in calories, and have a myriad of impressive health benefits. Many of you will be serving them at your table this Thanksgiving . . . though you will probably call them cranberries!
Cranberries bounce when they're ripe, which is why they are called bounceberries. The majority of cranberries are grown in Wisconsin and Michigan, but our wet Pacific Northwest climate makes cranberry farming a good fit, and many small family businesses produce a respectable amount of berries each year. October was actually National Cranberry Month (I'm afraid I never got the memo) so I missed the Cranberrian Fair in Ilwaco, Washington. You can bet I'll mark it on my calendar for next year!
But meanwhile, you can look at the cranberry bogs along the Long Beach Peninsula and visit the Cranberry Museum on the Washington coast any time. Look for more information provided by the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation.
Because raw cranberries are hard and bitter, most people prefer them cooked and sweetened. I love dried cranberries in baked goods and salads, and find the tartness refreshing in cold drinks. Cranberry juice can be full of sugar, so it's important to read the labels.
The greatest health benefits come from eating the whole berry, especially if you eat them raw. (I pucker up just thinking about it.) They appear to be especially effective in fighting stomach and urinary bacteria, and studies show they may help fight cancer. If you are prone to kidney stones or are on blood thinners, you will want to discuss possible contraindications with your doctor before adding cranberries to your diet. Here is a great article with lots of good information about these amazing berries: What's New and Beneficial About Cranberries.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I have to admit I'm more focused on the recipe possibilities than the health benefits. This year I am trying to come up with some simple ways to use cranberries, beginning with homemade cranberry sauce. There's nothing wrong with canned sauce, but making your own is easy and inexpensive, and you can avoid the high fructose corn syrup that is most likely included in commercial sauce. Also, if you make your own, you can mold it into all kinds of fun shapes . . . and I don't mean the cylindrical shape that plops from a can!
Whole berry or jellied sauce? Or both?
We always had jellied and whole berry cranberry sauce on our Thanksgiving table when I was growing up, because people seem to have strong preferences for one type or the other. Personally, I'm a jellied sauce kind of gal. I'm going to give you recipes for both kinds though, so you can suit yourself.
Cranberries have a lot of natural pectin, and as long as you use sugar as a sweetener and don't overcook the sauce, it will jell without any added pectin.
Mold your sauce simply by pouring it into a bowl or gelatin mold, or make individual servings by pouring it into small candy molds, ice cube trays, or small cups. If you are using plastic chocolate molds, let the sauce cool a bit before you fill your molds so you don't damage them; they can't take the heat! If you are using hard candy molds, ice cube trays, or cups, feel free to pour immediately. If you have any problem getting the cranberry sauce out of the molds, try freezing them for twenty minutes and then dip the bottom of the mold briefly in hot water. If you are using small cups, simply put one by each place setting.
With a small decorative cookie or fondant cutter and thin slices of jellied cranberry sauce, you can make pretty decorations for open-faced sandwiches, salads, hors d'oeuvres, or desserts.
Baking with cranberries
Thanksgiving morning finds me up early, baking pies before putting the turkey in the oven. I certainly don't have time to make breakfast, and would chase out anyone who dared come in my kitchen, so for their sake and mine, muffins are baked the night before.
Here's a festive recipe for Lemon Cranberry Nut Muffins.
Drink to your health
When I went to the store for cranberry juice, I was a little disappointed to find that even the bottle that said 100% juice wasn't really cranberry juice. It had apple, grape, and pear juice concentrates in it. There are some organic juices listed online, but I settled for the mixture this time, and I have to admit it made a wonderful, refreshing drink. I used hard apple cider in mine, but you can substitute regular apple cider for a no-alcohol version.
Versatile casserole: with or without meat
I saved the best for last. This side dish is very simple, and absolutely delicious. The first time I made it I only used yams, apples, brown sugar, pecans, and butter. The flavors and textures all complemented each other, and I was thrilled with the outcome. Predictably, my husband suggested bacon, and since I have cranberries on the brain I thought they would add a nice contrast to both flavor and color, so I made another batch and the additions were perfect, taking this dish right over the top. I think this Harvest Casserole will be going with me to a few potlucks this month!
Dried, fresh, cooked, or raw, these tart little berries pack a punch when it comes to flavor and nutrition. Buy a few extra bags and pop them in your freezer to use all winter long.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, from my kitchen to yours!
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2014.