There’s so much more to cranberries than that can-shaped red jelly seen on many Thanksgiving tables, said Carla Due, Miller County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Cranberries, a native North American fruit, have a lot going for them,” she said. “Fresh or dried, they contain polyphenol antioxidants and vitamins A,C, E and K. They contain no fat, cholesterol and are very low in sodium. They’re also high in fiber.”

Cranberries, however, are not naturally sweet, so products such as dried cranberries are generally sweetened.

Fall is the time when the fresh fruits start to show up in stores.

“Harvest is a short few weeks in the fall, but like most farmers, they are working the ground and crop year-round,” Due said. “Fresh cranberries are available from October through December in the produce aisle. Others are combined with other ingredients to become sauce, juice, or dried cranberries.”

When selecting fresh cranberries, select shiny, plump berries, ranging in color from bright, light red to dark red. Discard shriveled berries or those with brown spots, she said.

To prepare fresh cranberries for cooking, sort out bruised berries and rinse the remainder with cold water and use in your recipe. Do not wash before freezing. If you are cooking frozen berries, thawing is not necessary, just wash, drain and follow recipe directions using frozen berries.

Due said fresh cranberries should be stored in the refrigerator in their original plastic bag for up to a month.

“You can also freeze fresh cranberries in their packaging for up to a year, so it is best to buy one for now, and freeze two for later because they are not usually available after the holidays,” she said. “For storing other packaged cranberry products including juices, dried cranberries or cranberry sauce, please check the label.”

Dried cranberries work well in baked goods. However, there is a one-fourth cup difference in measurement.

“If a recipe calls for one cup of fresh or frozen cranberries, use three-fourths of a cup of sweetened dried cranberries,” Due said. “You can also rehydrate dried cranberries using water or cranberry juice for plumpness, but this generally isn’t necessary.”

Why not start your Thanksgiving Day with cranberry muffins at breakfast? You can make them the night before, store in an airtight container and reheat in the oven the next morning. Set up a breakfast buffet with fresh sliced fruit, coffee, juice, milk, and your morning will start off on a healthy start, with little work.

Cranberry Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

one and one half teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

one half teaspoon baking soda

One fourth cup margarine or butter

1 egg, well beaten

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

three fourth cup orange juice

one and one half cup fresh cranberries, chopped or one cup dried

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Cut in margarine until mixture is course. Add egg, orange peel, and orange juice all at once. Stir until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, two thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 15 muffins.

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