This time of year, fresh cranberries are in abundance.
These beautiful, bright-red berries can enhance a multitude of dishes. Make sure to buy plenty and freeze some for later use.
Cranberries are for more than just cranberry sauce during the holiday season. Cranberries are very good for you. They are packed with a variety of vitamins and can promote wellbeing.
Native Americans used cranberries for medicinal purposes, and their juice made a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts documented in 1620 that cranberries grew in abundance there, and legend has it that cranberries were served at the first Thanksgiving dinner.
Cranberries are sold fresh, frozen or dried. The peak season for the fruit is September through December. Do not buy cranberries that appear shriveled or soft.
Freeze cranberries for longer storage. You can also substitute frozen cranberries for fresh ones in most recipes.
It is best not to wash cranberries until you plan to use them. This is because moisture from washing them will cause them to spoil more quickly. Remember that when the cranberries ‘pop’ during cooking this simply means that the outer skins have expanded and burst.
The red cabbage and cranberries dish that follows is one of my absolute favorites to serve during holidays. It can be prepared in advance and just quickly heated up before serving. This dish complements turkey, ham, chicken or pork.
SPICED SAUTEED RED CABBAGE WITH CRANBERRIES
1 pound red cabbage cut into 4 quarters, core removed.
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup (eight ounces) cranberries, preferably fresh
1/2 heaping tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
You will need a large pan for cooking this dish. First, shred the cabbage finely into 1/4-inch shreds. Discard any tough stalky bits.
Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Turn up heat to high. Add cabbage.
Using a large spoon, keep stirring the cabbage. After about 3-4 minutes of cooking, continue stirring and add the spices, salt, pepper and cranberries.
Turn down the heat and continue cooking for 5-8 minutes. Stir once or twice during that time. Test a piece (bite it) to see if it is tender. When it is ready, turn the heat up again and sprinkle in the brown sugar and vinegar. Give the whole mixture a couple more stirs. It is then ready to serve.
CRANBERRY CUSTARD PIE
One baked 9-inch pastry shell
One can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 egg yolks, well beaten
8 ounces (two cups) cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 scant cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
Prepare and bake pastry shell. Cool.
Combine milk, lemon juice and egg yolks. Mix well.
Spread this mixture evenly in baked pie shell and chill for 3 to 4 hours. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine the cranberries, scant cup of sugar and water.
Bring mixture to boil.
Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Drain. Pass cranberries through a fine sieve or puree in a blender. Cool. Spread cranberry mixture over custard layer.
Whip cream and vanilla essence until stiff. Spread over top of pie. Refrigerate until serving time.
Mary Elizabeth Evans has taught cooking classes through Pima College and her company Teascompany at www.teascompany.net.