Cranberries grow on dwarf, evergreen shrubs that grow wild in bogs in cooler parts of the northern hemisphere. Settlers in New England thought the blossoms resembled the head of a crane, and "cranberry" is condensed from their term, "crane berry."
Cranberries were important to Native Americans, who mixed them with dried venison, fat and nuts to make pemmican -- a long-lasting trail food. It's likely that the Wampanoag brought cranberries to that fabled potluck we know as the first Thanksgiving, but cranberry sauce was definitely not on the menu. Sugar was an expensive rarity in Europe, not among the Pilgrim's provisions, and the first written mention of cranberry sauce came some 50 years later.
Modern science has discovered what Native Americans knew long ago -- cranberries are good medicine. Long-touted as healthy for the urinary tract, cranberries are a rich source of antioxidants that can protect against cancer.
Cranberries peaked in November. They're one of our few indigenous fruits, and no nation in the world has taken to cranberry cultivation like we have. Cranberries are an important crop in states ranging from New England through the Great Lakes.
Not to dispel the charm of those commercials depicting growers up to their waders in bobbing red berries -- but bogs aren't always that picturesque. Most cranberries are now cultivated on dry land surrounded by man-made dikes and are flooded only to accommodate berry collection.
This thick batter makes a dense bread that's great toasted and served with butter. When cranberries are available, throw a few bags in your freezer to make this bread year-round.
> Cranberry Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup grated orange rind
1 cup fresh or dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans.
Combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add sugar, egg, butter, hot water, orange juice and grated orange rind; stir until moistened. Fold in berries and nuts. Spoon into pan and bake 50 minutes (or 35 minutes for mini loaves). Cool; wrap and refrigerate or freeze.
Recipe courtesy of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.
Per serving: 170 calories, 6g fat, 3g prot., 30g carbs., 1g fiber, 240mg sodium.
Look for Relish magazine the first Thursday of each month in The Buffalo News.