Cranberries are a big part of the season with their prominence in Thanksgiving dishes in the US and their place as part of the traditional Christmas lunch here in the UK.  But there are lots of things to do with cranberries aside from the classic cranberry sauce and the health benefits of these little red berries make them well worth including into your diet.

Health benefits of cranberries

The cranberry is actually a group of plants that are termed as evergreen dwarf shrubs.  Different parts of the world have different types of the same plant but all are part of the Oxycoccus genus.  Generally, they are around 2 to 8 inches in height and grow in cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere with dark pink flowers followed by the distinctive little red berries.  Cranberries are a major commercial crop across some part of the US and Canada.

Cranberries are high on the list of healthy fruits due to the amount of nutrients within them and their antioxidant content.  Cranberries have been associated with lowering the risk of urinary tract infections as well as decreasing blood pressure and boosting the immune system.  They also contain something called proanthocyanins that help to stop bacteria building up on teeth and can aid the prevention of gum disease.

Cranberries contain vitamin C that is a powerful antioxidant able to kill of those nasty free radicals that cause so many problems in our systems and are partially responsible for the effects of aging.  They also have plenty of fibre in them that reduces the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes as well as being good for the digestive tract.  They also have a good amount of vitamin E which is a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps the immune system.

Things to do with cranberries

Before we delve into the world of things to do with cranberries, let’s take a moment to review that classic turkey accompaniment – cranberry sauce.  Sure, you can buy it in the supermarket easily enough but it is great to make your own as you know exactly what’s going in it.  All you need is 200 gram caster sugar, 225ml orange juice and 350 grams fresh cranberries.  Dissolve the sugar in the orange juice then stir in the berries and cook until they pop, around 10 minutes.  Leave to cool in a bowl and it will be perfect for Christmas lunch.

For a tipsy version, drop the orange juice use 400gram of sugar and 450 grams cranberries then add five tablespoons of brandy in.

things to do with cranberries
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Other accompaniments

Cranberries also lend themselves to a range of different accompaniments to go with other dishes such as chutneys and relishes.  Most are very simple to make and bring the health benefits of cranberries to almost any dish.

Cranberry relish

Blend four cups of cranberries and ½ cup sugar then toss in 2/3 cup of diced celery and the same of apple as well as 2/3 cup of chopped parsley.

Cranberry Mint Chutney

In a pan add one cup of cranberries with ¾ cup of sugar and of water, 1.2 cup dried cranberries and a pinch of salt.  Bring to the boil then simmer until the berries pop.  Cool then stir in ½ cup chopped cranberries, ¼ cup chopped mint and two tablespoons cider vinegar.

Cranberry & Jalapeno Salsa

Blend two cups of cranberries with ¼ cup sugar then add 1/3 cup of chopped cucumber and cilantro (coriander in the UK) along with ¼ cup chopped white onion, 1 minced jalapeno, one tablespoon lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt.

Cranberry butter

Make up a classic cranberry sauce then puree ¼ cup with one stick of softened butter and a punch of sea salt.  Great with leftover turkey sandwiches.

Breakfast and light meals

Maple, pecan and cranberry granola

Ingredients:

  • 125ml maple syrup
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 25ml sunflower oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 500g rolled oats
  • 175g mixed seeds
  • 150g pecans (or walnuts if you prefer)
  • 50g whole almonds
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • 75g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g dried cranberries

Put the syrup, sugar, oil and vanilla into a bowl and mix then toss in the oats, seeds, pecans, almonds, coconut and cinnamon.  Stir to ensure everything is moistened then spread on a baking tray evenly.  Put in the oven at 170 degrees for around 15 minutes, stirring half way through.  When golden brown, remove and leave to cool then mix up and add the cranberries.

Fennel, watercress and cranberry salad

Ingredients

  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 4 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ¼ tsp salt
  • 225ml olive oil
  • 6 bunches watercress, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3 bulbs fennel, cored and thinly sliced
  • 3 small heads radicchio, cored and chopped
  • 100g toasted pecan halves

This recipe does state that serves 20 – I leave you to judge that.  Combine the cranberries, vinegars, garlic and salt in a bowl then whisk the olive oil slowly.  In a salad bowl, mix the watercress, fennel, radicchio and pecans then toss in the salad dressing and serve.

Cakes and Sweet Treats

Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Cake

Ingredients:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g chopped cranberries
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 180ml fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbsp. grated orange zest

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and bicarb then add the cranberries and walnuts.  Mix the egg, oil, orange juice and zest in a separate bowl then mix the two together and stir gently until they are blended.  Spoon the mixture into a 23 x 12 cm loaf tin and bake on 180 degrees for around 50 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clear.  Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the tin.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 180ml milk
  • 125 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. grated orange zest
  • 125g fresh cranberries, chopped
  • 250g plain flour
  • 5 tbsp. caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Line a muffin tin with paper cases.  Combine the eggs with the milk, oil and orange zest then toss the cranberries with two teaspoons of flour and add.  Separately, mix the rest of the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt then add to the first bowl, slowly to avoid adding too much air.  It will be lumpy – that’s good with muffins.  Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes then remove from the muffin tin to cool.

White chocolate, cranberry and pecan cookies

Ingredients:

  • 60g butter
  • 40g dark brown sugar
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 75g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 40g rolled oats
  • ¼ tsp vanilla paste
  • 75g white chocolate
  • 40g dried cranberries
  • 25g pecans
  • 1 egg

Use a hand mixer to blend the sugar and butter then fold in the rest of the dry ingredients.  Add enough egg so you can roll out the mixture and scoop out evenly sized spoonful’s that you press out to be around the size of the cookies you require.  Bake in the oven at 160 degrees for around 15 minutes until start to turn brown at the edges.  Leave to cool on a rack.

Smoothies and drinks

Smoothies are an excellent way to get cranberries into your diet if you aren’t keen on eating the texture of the berries (like me!).  A simple cranberry smoothie recipe includes I cup almond milk, 1 banana, ½ cup frozen mixed berries and ½ cup frozen cranberries.  Blend together and refrigerate if you like your drinks cool for around an hour.

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The Raspberry Cranberry Smoothie involves mixing ¼ cup cranberries with 1 cup raspberry yoghurt and 1 cup of raspberries and 2/3 cup of either water or almond milk, depending on your preference.  Blend until smooth and drink.

Blueberries are both hugely healthy and delicious and can also be combined in a smoothie with cranberries.  Use 1 ½ tbsp. honey with ½ cup blueberries and the same amount of cranberries alongside 8 oz. of your favourite fruit juice and half a banana.  Blend and add ice if you want a chilled version.

The classic cranberry-featuring cocktail is the Cosmopolitan featuring 4cl vodka with 1.5cl Cointreau and the same amount of lime juice alongside 3cl of cranberry juice.

Brandied cranberries can be enjoyed themselves or used in different drinks.  Bring ¾ cup sugar and of water to boil with a cinnamon stick, one star anise pod and 1 split vanilla bean.  Add 2 ½ cups of cranberries and book for around three minutes then remove from the heat and stir in ½ cup brandy.  Chill overnight before using.

The Cranberry Negroni involves making some brandied cranberries then adding 1 ½ ounces gin, 1 ounce Campari and the same amount of sweet vermouth (Martini) with the syrup from the brandied cranberries and garnishing with ice, berries and an orange wedge.

The Cranberry Manhattan also uses the brandied cranberry.  Shake 2 ounces’ rye whiskey and ½ ounce sweet vermouth and brandied cranberry syrup with ice.  Strain into a martini glass and add a few drops of orange bitters.

Cranberries are well known as a part of Christmas lunch or Thanksgiving in the US.  And while they taste great there are lots more reasons to eat them - and a lot more you can do with them beyond cranberry sauce.  Here are 17 simple recipes and ideas
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