Cranberries are Thanksgiving staple

This tart fall fruit can be enjoyed throughout the season in a variety of ways

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Cranberries are a sure sign of fall.

Like grapes, cranberries are finicky and require patience. Their vines take as many as five years before they produce, and, contrary to popular belief, are not cultivated in water but in irrigated sand marshes that are flooded for harvesting.

“They don’t like dry conditions, but they don’t like having their feet wet all the time, either,” said Mike Simon of North Tomah Cranberry Co., the Rezin family’s fourth-generation Wisconsin operation, about three hours southeast of the Twin Cities. Simon’s wife, Teresa, is the great-granddaughter of the farm’s founder; the couple work alongside Teresa’s parents, John and Joy, and her brother Jeff.

Local angle

The harvest of the 2011 cranberry crop on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula occurred in early October.

Each year, growers near Seaview flood their cranberry bogs, then use machines to knock the berries into the water, where they float until being suctioned into trucks for delivery to processing centers.

Some 30 farmers grow 4.5 million to 6 million pounds of cranberries annually on the peninsula. Most of the berries are sold to the Ocean Spray cooperative.

Washington is the fifth-largest cran­berry-producing state in the United States.

Most of the Rezins’ 180-acre output is contracted to the Ocean Spray co-op and winds up as juice.

Cranberries, which are native to North America, are too tart to be enjoyed raw, although they work well in both sweet and savory situations and pair particularly well with apples and pears. They also have a remarkable shelf life. Simon noted that cranberries will keep six to eight weeks in the refrigerator, “and close to forever in the freezer,” he said. “We’ve had some that were 3 years old, and they were still just as good as the day we froze them.”

Cranberry-Pear Crisp

Serves 6 to 8.

From “Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus” by Lee Svitak Dean (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $29.95).

8 ripe pears (or apples), peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices

1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 c. fresh cranberries

¼ c. granulated sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 c. rolled oats

¾ c. flour

½ c. firmly packed brown sugar

8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

Whipped cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, toss pear (or apple) slices in lemon juice. Add cranberries, granulated sugar and cinnamon and toss to combine. Spread fruit in an ungreased 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar and butter with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit.

Bake until fruit is tender and topping is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Top with whipped cream.

Per serving: Calories: 400; Fat: 15 g; Sodium: 91 mg; Carbohydrates: 67 g; Saturated fat: 9 g: Calcium: 48 mg; Protein: 4 g; Cholesterol: 38 mg; Dietary fiber: 8 g. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 fruit, 1½ other carb, 3 fat.