Charming local cranberries aren’t easy to find. Though they can grow in Maryland, and are in fact a native fruit, you don’t see a lot of them in the farmers markets.
Cranberries are a great fall fruit, and are usually seen at the Thanksgiving table. Whether sweetened and jellied, or sweetened and dried, or just sweetened and made into a homemade sauce, cranberries are best with some sweetener added.
For a native fruit, we normally eat dried cranberries, cranberry juice, and then sauce once a year. Yet local cranberries are very healthy and worth eating more often.
What do Local Cranberries Taste Like?
Most of us buy our cranberries already sweetened. But fresh local cranberries are tart, bitter, or astringent. They are usually red outside, white inside, and are not juicy at all.
Local cranberries have air pockets inside, and are one of the lowest sugar fruits out there.
Cranberries are tarter than lemons. They have a similar acid level, but lemons have a bit more sugar in them.
This fall, look for local cranberries – small red round fruits, about a centimeter in diameter. They have shiny skins.
Once you cook your cranberries with some sweetener, they have a delicious sweet-tart flavor.
Local or not, only about 5% of the annual cranberry crop is sold fresh or frozen. Most cranberries are processed into juice, sauce, and dried cranberries.
Growing Local Cranberries
Local cranberries are a perennial fruit, meaning they grow on a bush each year. They are native to the US, and grow best in colder areas.
Large cranberry farms submerge their cranberry plants each year to harvest the berries. Since cranberries have air pockets in them, they float. Most of the year, the plants are grown out of water.
Wet harvesting by submerging the plants in water is used typically for cranberries that will be made into juices or sauces. They harvest by hand (dry harvesting) the berries meant to be sold fresh.
A cranberry plant is a low, creeping evergreen bush, almost a vine. It can grow six to eight feet long. They grow best in zones 4 through 7, and in acidic soil like blueberries.
You can grow your own cranberry plant from seeds, but they need to be placed in the fridge for about three months before sowing them. They need the cold to sprout.
Fresh local cranberries should be round, firm, and not spotted. A good fresh cranberry will bounce. A light frost will make the berries a bit sweeter.
While you are most likely to see dark red cranberries for sale fresh, local cranberries can also be mottled pink to white.
Preserving Local Cranberries
Fresh local cranberries keep well in the fridge for up to a month. If you want to keep them longer, you can freeze them for up to a year, or dry them.
Dried cranberries keep six months to a year at room temperature. Canned cranberries last even longer.
Store fresh cranberries in the plastic bag they came in.
Freezing cranberries is easy. Freeze them on a baking tray, then place in a container in the freezer for later.
Before drying your local cranberries, you may want to sweeten them. Place them in a pot and cover them with boiling water for a minute or two.
Drain the cooked berries and either put into your dehydrator or add a simple syrup of one part sugar to two parts water to the berries for five to ten minutes before drying them.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, put them on a baking sheet in a single layer and put that in the oven, on the lowest setting, for 8-12 hours.
Thanks to their acidity, you can water bath can cranberries. Can them in a sugar syrup or make a sauce for later.
Cranberries have a lot of pectin, so they gel easily without added pectin.
Recipes for Local Cranberries
Fresh local cranberries can be used in baked goods, or chopped thinly as a salad garnish or added to morning oatmeal. Fresh cranberries can be used in salsas as well, or added to festive drinks.
Most of the time, you’ll want to cook your cranberries before using them. You’ll want to simmer them in a sweetened liquid for about ten minutes until they burst into the liquid. Their pectin will thicken the mixture.
Alternatively, you can roast your cranberries in a sweetener. Local cranberries roast well in Honey Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans.
Cranberries are great in many baked goods, whether used fresh, dried, or cooked and sweetened. Try making Cranberry Cream Cheese Bread Pudding!
Did you Know? Local Cranberries
Cranberries are native to the US, and many native peoples enjoyed them as food, medicine and dye.
The Algonquin called cranberries sassamanash, which means sour berries.
Cranberries were eaten as berries, and the leaves were used to make tea, as well as used as a tobacco substitute.