One of my favorite foods this time of year is cranberries. I love cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, dried cranberries, cranberry bread, cranberry cookies, etc, etc, etc. I often buy several bags of cranberries towards the end of the season to freeze for year-round use as well. Not only do cranberries taste yummy, they are good for you too.
Cranberries help protect our bodies in a myriad of ways. They contain flavonoids called proanthocyanidins. Ok, so what does that mean, you ask? Well, flavonoids, in general, are antioxidants which means they help keep our cells from mutating, and therefore help prevent cancer. They also help keep our LDL (bad) cholesterol levels low, helping to prevent heart disease. Proanthocyanidins, help inhibit bacteria from adhering to the body, which is why cranberry juice is often credited for preventing urinary tract infections. It has also been shown to prevent plaque formation on teeth and mouthwashes containing proanhocyanidins have been shown to reduce periodontal disease. Cranberry juice can also help prevent H.pylori bacteria from adhering in the stomach, reducing the risk and severity of peptic ulcers.
So now we know why they are good for us, here are some tips for storing and using them. As I said earlier, I buy extra bags to use throughout the year. Often you can find bags of fresh cranberries on sale for about $1, or even less as the season ends (usually the end of December). I even found some on clearnace last year for 25 cents a bag at Wal-Mart. Just be sure to buy bags with very few brown or soft berries. If you are planning to store the berries, just throw the entire bag in the freezer. They will be likely be good right up until next year's cranberry season. As for using cranberries, homemade cranberry sauce is so simple and the canned stuff just does not compare. One simple recipe is to dissolve 1 cup of white sugar in 1 cup of orange juice, over medium heat. Add 12 ounces of cranberries and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to burst open. It will seem a bit runny, but it will thicken as it sits. I also like to toss dried cranberries into my salad or you could even use fresh cranberries to make a cranberry salad dressing. I also use dried cranberries in trail mixes and sprinkle them on top of my cereal. Cranberries also go well with meat dishes, especially poultry, and I will sometimes throw a bunch into my casseroles, if I think they will go well with the other flavors. There are lots of drink recipes too that use cranberry juice as a main ingredient. For some ideas, go to www.allrecipes.com and type in cranberry drink or cranberry punch in the search box for a whole list of them.
While many people find cranberries too tart to be eaten raw, there are so many other ways to ingest them, that to not eat them is a shame. They help our bodies from our heads to our, well, I will put it nicely and say bladder. We can drink them or eat them in dishes that range from salads to entrees to desserts. Their season is beginning to come to an end though, so I recommend getting out there and picking some up for yourselves before they are gone until next fall. Enjoy!