Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cranberry Cooking

I saw fresh cranberries for sale for the first time the other day.  They were sitting on the same shelf of a gourmet food store as paw paw from the Philippines, close to where a month ago, I had spotted blood oranges from the US.  Despite being grown in New Zealand, these cranberries were by no means cheap.  In fact, they were decidely expensive, at about $9 for less than 340g.

Not having had prior experience with fresh cranberries, I assumed they would be similar to the more familiar blueberries, cherries and strawberries, that is, sweet, soft and juicy.  I was therefore surprised to find them vacuum packed.  No other fresh berry would survive such a treatment, surely?  It turns out they weren't as fresh as I had thought either.  The best by date was already two weeks in the past, which is not surprising as the cranberry season runs from around March to June in New Zealand.  Fortunately, I discovered that they keep a long time, up to two months in a sealed bag in the refrigerator.  They were still very firm anyway, with the exception of a few bad ones.

Vacuum packed cranberries at the store (top left).
Since my previous cranberry encounters were in the form of juice and dried fruit, I imagined these berries to be a deep red throughout, gushing a sweet liquid as soon as you give them a gentle bite, a bit like giant pomegranate seeds, perhaps.  How wrong I was!  First, there is a distinct crunch when you chew them, and almost immediately, you realise that they taste horrible, sour and astringent without any redeeming sweetness.  Yuck!

After your mouth stops puckering, you might notice that apart from the skin, the fruit is in fact not very red at all.  Nor is it very juicy.  And there are little seeds inside.  How curious!

Not what I imagined cranberries looked like inside!
I decided to cook them as I would quinces, in water with plenty of sugar (though not for as long), forming a delicious mixture which thickened on cooling.  Cranberry sauce or cranberry jam, if you like.  What a transformation!

Making cranberry sauce.
Cranberry sauce is most often associated with Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey in the US and Canada, but you could also have it with your roast chicken, smear it with whipped cream onto your freshly baked scones, or use it to sweeten a plain yoghurt.

My American sister-in-law also suggested I try blending the fresh berries in a food processor with an orange, apple, and a few tablespoons of sugar, but I'm not convinced that a raw cranberry relish would be my thing.

It turned out to be a tasty (when prepared) and educational purchase in the end.  However, I am not sure that I would pay that amount of money for raw cranberries again, especially since you (or rather, I) cannot eat them raw.

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