Little berry, big punch

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One of my favorite signs of the impending holidays and also a favorite cooking ingredient is the cranberry.

This unique fruit is one of only a handful of fruits that is actually native to the North. They grow on running vines mostly in areas of soft, marshy ground known as bogs. These areas are usually near wetlands which helps when it is time to flood the fields for the harvesting.

Ripe cranberries float to the top because they have a small pocket of air in them. And then workers wearing waders come through the bogs and use a variety of ways to scoop the berries from their vines. and large scoops are used to lift the berries off of their vines. So if you buy fresh ones you can pour them into a bowl or sink of water and scoop out the ones that float, the ones at the bottom are not any good.

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There is no end to what you can do with cranberries, especially the dried ones (I always have a bag in my freezer). I use the ones that are lightly sweetened and usually sold as Craisins. You can add them to muffins, waffles and pancakes. They are a wonderful addition to a salad with toasted walnuts, chopped green apple, romaine lettuce and a balsamic vinaigrette. Surprise your family with an oatmeal cookie recipe where you have swapped the raisins for dried cranberries. Another favorite of mine is to add them along with the zest of one large navel orange to my favorite plain cheesecake recipe during the holidays. Before I mix them into the batter I soak them for about 15 minutes in some warm (not hot) orange liqueur.

A really good and quick appetizer is cranberry horseradish sauce over cream cheese. You can make the sauce mixture and store in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Cranberry horseradish sauce

16 ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce

1 / 2 cup sugar

1 / 2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 / 2 to 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

8 ounce package cream cheese

Stir together the sauce, sugar, salt, juices and the horseradish in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and let cool and then store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To serve, simply pour the sauce over the cream cheese, garnish with rosemary sprigs and pomegranate seeds. And serve with crackers.

And if you want to celebrate the season with a cranberry cocktail try this.

Cranberry and champagne


2 tablespoons cranberry juice

1 tablespoons orange liqueur

1 teaspoon grenadine

1 / 2 cup dry champagne

Place the first three ingredients in a champagne flute and then pour the champagne in on top. You can multiply the first three ingredients by how ever many guests you will be serving and put them in a pitcher. Then just stir well and pour some in each glass and then proceed with your champagne.

Christina Hall can be reached by e-mail at