The crimson harvest has rolled in, and just as we love pumpkins in October, cranberries reign supreme among holiday fruits from now through Christmas.
Americans will eat about 80 million pounds of cranberries during Thanksgiving week, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Board. That will account for about 20 percent of the 400 million pounds consumed annually.
Cranberries were first enjoyed by Native Americans, and the South Jersey Leni-Lenape tribes called them “ibimi,” or bitter berry. It was German and Dutch settlers who called it the “crane berry” because of the flower’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane.
There may have been some cranberries at the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621, but not as the kind of sauce we know today. More likely they were part of a mixture of pemmican, a kind of Native American protein-based power bar. They realized early on that the berry is packed with nutrition.
It was by the 18th century that cranberry sauce became a known accompaniment to game meat like turkey in the U.S., and when you open a can of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner, you can thank a former lawyer named Marcus L. Urann.
He was a founder of what would eventually become the Ocean Spray company. The owner of a cranberry bog, Urann was the first to come up with the idea of making canned sauce in order to extend the brief cranberry harvest season. The first cans of gelled cranberry sauce were marketed in 1941; they have been adding color to American holiday tables ever since.
Only 5 percent of cranberries are sold fresh in the United States, but you can find them in supermarkets and some local farm markets where they have made the short trip from New Jersey. If you enjoy using them for baking and cooking all year long, they freeze beautifully.
Here is a recipe from oceanspray.com where the tartness of cranberries is a pleasant contrast to the sweetness of apples for a dessert you can set alongside the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.
Cranberry Apple Crisp
5 cups sliced tart apples (about 6 medium apples)
1½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup butter or margarine
Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
Pare and core apples. Layer apples and cranberries in pan sprinkling with sugar as you layer. Mix flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Work in butter until light and crumbly. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples and cranberries.
Bake 45 minutes or until apples are tender. Makes 9 servings.