Cooking with Cranberries

It’s cranberry time in Maine. A handful of Maine’s producers are dry picking their berries while most are flooding blogs and reeling in the berries. I have no personal preference in how the berries we eat are picked. As long as they’re picked and I have 10 pounds to put up I’m satisfied.

Cranberries floating on the bog

Floating after being reeled off the vines.

I don’t know what it is about cranberries that make me weak.  When I find them while hunting birds and white-tailed deer I can’t resist trying one. Maybe this time it won’t be bitter. This time I won’t scrunch up my nose, make a silly face and wonder why I just did that…again.

My favorite recipe for cranberries is sauce. Homemade cranberry sauce is simple but can be a bit messy. I hit the wrong button on the blender last year and made a mess so big my daughter Kristin came to the kitchen to help me clean up. I won’t be using the regular blender this year; I’m sticking with the immersion blender and doing the blending in a deep pot.

I tried several recipes last year, and this one is my favorite. This makes a chunky sauce.

Cranberry Sauce

1 pound cranberries, picked over. (NOTE: bags of cranberries are usually 12 ounces.)
1 to 1 ¼ cup sugar
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp nutmeg

Mix the sugar into the cider in a stainless steel pan. Add cranberries. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Add nutmeg (or cinnamon, apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice) to the mixture when it’s warm enough to keep the spice from clumping. Reduce the heat to keep the mixture simmering. When most of the cranberry skins have split remove from heat and allow to cool until it’s easy to handle. Now mix the sauce with an immersion blender until most of the berries are pureed.

If you’d like to make jelly rather than sauce you can puree all of the berries and put the mixture through a food mill or strain it through cheese cloth.

Both recipes can be canned using approved methods.

Maine had the best harvest ever in 2012. The average yield was 16,800 pounds per acre. Most of the 213 acres in production are here in Washington County. They’re one of three crops (along with blueberries and Concord grapes) native to New England; they do well with our acidic soil.

Chutney is a close second to sauce in my list of favorites. One of the things I love about cranberries is their simplicity. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a recipe that hasn’t been quick and easy to use.

Cranberry Chutney

4 cups cranberries, picked over
1 cup red wine
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon orange zest

Mix the wine and sugar together; stir until all sugar dissolves. Add ginger and cranberries. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Cool to room temperature. Chutney will be chunky and should be blended or pureed. Serve fresh, store in the refrigerator, or can using approved methods.

I add cranberries to applesauce when the apples I’m using don’t make a thick sauce. The pectin in the cranberries will help it thicken naturally. I also add them to partridge salad when making sandwiches, and will add a few to the stuffing for the baked stuffed haddock I’ll make for supper tonight.

Cranberries will store in the freezer for nine months if you use an air tight container. When I’m using the FoodSaver I freeze the berries on a cookie sheet first to keep them from being smashed during the sealing process. I don’t find a difference in taste between fresh and frozen berries.

Enjoy Maine’s bounty! It’s nice to be able to eat fresh foods this late into the season. It won’t be long before we’re covered in snow and enjoying the foods we’ve stored.

Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.