It's cranberry season... Well, it's been cranberry season for quite a while actually, since mid-September. (Check out the beautiful shots from La Tartine Gourmande...) But with Canadian Thanksgiving just past, and the American one coming up next month, it really feels like it's high time for cranberries. Just imagine the bread pudding from my last post studded with fresh, tart cranberries. My mouth is watering!

Cranberries are wonderful powerhouses of nutrition: I may be quite laissez-faire about diet and nutrition, but I know a superfood when I see one and I will not pass up the opportunity to enjoy them. Cranberries have been proven to be a great preventative for cystitis (UTI), are very high in vitamin C and other anti-oxidants, among other benefits they bring you. Ever wonder how Ocean Spray manages to supply cranberries from Canadian Thanksgiving all the way to Christmas? Aside from buying off a huge chunk of North America's berry production, cranberries have natural anti-bacterial properties which allow them to keep for an incredible amount of time. Case in point: for Christmas 2008, I used cranberries as the table's centrepiece. They were out in a warm room all day and all night, and most of the following day. I eventually got around to cooking part of them a couple of days later, but half got forgotten at the back of my fridge. I found them a month later (well into 2009) and they were still nice, not one rotten berry!

Apparently, the cranberries anti-bacterial properties are also good for us: eating these tart berries can help prevent mild cases of food poisoning. So this holiday season, do not pass up on the cranberry sauce, it might save you from a bellyache.

The whole anti-oxidant craze has been a boon to the cranberry industry, and to some extent to cranberry growers. Cranberry production in most Canadian provinces have shot up, and there are increasingly more market stands offering local crans. There are, however, some environmental concerns with massive production of the berries. If you check out the link to La Tartine Gourmande, you will see why. Cranberry harvest requires huge amounts of water, which can lead to the pollution of water tables. Some environmental concerns can be avoided by purchasing berries from smaller "producers", by which I mean wild pickers. There is also the option of avoiding big suppliers like Ocean Spray, and buying from actual producers, who are truly invested in protecting their water table, seeing as they and their family drink from it. I hesitate to claim that all small farmers are wary of pesticide overuse, but given that the price of chemical pesticides have doubled over the last year, most producers have had to cut back on their use.

Fresh cranberries can be used in so many ways, that it boggles the mind. But you need not limit yourself to cranberry sauce with turkey, or the ubiquitous cranberry muffin that is showing up at every fast-food breakfast place in town. Jazz up your tired cranberry sauce recipe with some chili pepper (why not some chipotle?) and orange juice and zest, and you've got yourself a chutney that will rival ketchup on anything (it's great with aged Cheddar on multigrain, r with cream cheese on a Montreal bagel...) Cranberry-orange jam with toast; cranberry pancakes; cranberries in your morning smoothie will really wake you up!

And don't forget the desserts: cranberry-pear crumble; cranberry-apple pie; cranberry fool (use some leftover cranberry sauce or jam)... But I think my favorite way to have cranberries are in a cocktail! Now if you order a cranberry drink in most bars, they will serve you alcohol mixed with cranberry "juice", but those are loaded with sugar and they lack real cranberry flavour. Your best bet is to make your own cranberry alcohol. No, it's nothing complicated and it does not involve distilling or fermenting: purchase a bottle of your favorite white alcohol (gin or vodka are recommended, white rum is too vile) and some cranberries. For 1L of alcohol, you will need about 500g (1lb) of cranberries. Find a clear glass container to fit everything, or several smaller ones and divide evenly. Leave the berries and alcohol to rest at room temperature for at least a month before imbibing. The alcohol will have taken a beautiful ruby tinge and the berries' tartness. You can strain out the berries at this point, but it is not necessary. Keep to hand in the freezer, and you will always be ready to dole out the cranberry drinks! (Cranberry gin with tonic is luscious!)

Bon app'!


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