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Saturday, December 08, 2012


Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Cranberries! What an interesting fruit! The cranberry, along with the blueberry and Concord grape, is one of North America's three native fruits that are commercially grown. Cranberries were first used by Native Americans, who discovered the wild berry's versatility as a food, fabric dye and healing agent. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.

The name "cranberry" derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, "craneberry", so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. European settlers adopted the Native American uses for the fruit and found the berry a valuable bartering tool.

 American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy. In 1816, Captain Henry Hall became the first to successfully cultivate cranberries. By 1871, the first association of cranberry growers in the United States had formed, and now, U.S. farmers harvest approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year.

Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November, including a dormancy period in the winter months that provides an extended chilling period, necessary to mature fruiting buds. 

Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they grow on vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds, commonly known as "bogs," were originally made by glacial deposits. 

Normally, growers do not have to replant since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old. A lot of people think that cranberries grow under water. Makes sense, since we usually see the berries floating on top of the water. But that is just the of wet harvesting process. The bog is flooded with up to 18 inches of water the night before the berries are to be harvested.  The growers then use water reels, nicknamed “eggbeaters,” to churn the water and loosen the cranberries from the vine. Each berry has a tiny pocket of air that allows it to float to the surface of the water. From there, they’re corralled together, and processed and packed.

So what do you do with them? Cranberry sauce, cranberry apple pie, cranberry cobbler, cranberry chutney, you can do all sorts of fun stuff with them, how about some holiday sorbet? If you have freezer room, this is a great make-ahead gift for your friends. Also while they are in season, buy a few extra bags and keep them in your freezer, they hold up really well.
 So here is a recipe for pear cranberry sorbet for you to try. To be really fancy, hollow out limes and serve sorbet in the frozen shell.

Pear and Cranberry Sorbet

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
9 Anjou pears
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

Combine sugar with 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Stir well, and cook the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the syrup to a metal mixing bowl and set in the refrigerator to chill, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and core 3 pears. Chop into 1/4-inch dice and toss with 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Transfer to a medium saucepan. Add cranberries. Cover and cook over medium heat until the juices are released, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, covered, until pears are very soft, 12 to 18 minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and process until smooth. (At this stage, the puree may be passed through a fine strainer to get a smoother texture.) Transfer puree to metal bowl and chill in refrigerator, about 30 minutes.

Combine chilled puree with syrup and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream machine and freeze, following the manufacturer's instructions.