This post comes to us courtesy of Melissa Graham, founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus.
Few ingredients are as festive or as evocative of the holiday season as cranberries. Jewel-like in both shape and hue, cranberries bring sparkle to our tables from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
For this reason, at Purple Asparagus, cranberries are the star of our December Delicious Nutritious Adventures. While not an intuitively kid-friendly fruit, the cranberry is a delight to our students in numerous ways. For starters, how many other ingredients bounce?
Not only do cranberries bounce, but they also float. Cranberries are grown in a bog, a soft waterlogged ground. To harvest, cranberry farmers flood their fields, keeping only the berries that float. After that, cranberries move to the processing plant where producers will send them down a ramp packaging only the ones that bounce. To test cranberries in our classes, we ask our students to bounce them on their cutting boards. We double check their work by setting our cranberries to float in water-filled bowls.
See all of our delicious cranberry recipes for Thanksgiving!
Cranberries are a true blue American original. Along with blueberries and concord grapes, they are among a handful of foods native to North America. Cranberries were of utmost importance to the Native Americans. They mashed them with deer meat to make a sort of jerky critical to their survival called pemmican. In this tradition, our students taste cranberry fruit leather. It’s just as good without the meat!
Both the Native Americans and early American settlers used cranberries medicinally. It turns out that they were on to something. Modern science has shown that cranberries are chock full of antioxidants helping to prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Vitamin C is a bigger concern for our kids, and cranberries pack a punch of it.
Native Americans and the settlers also used cranberries to dye clothing, blankets, and rugs. We too use the red fruit decoratively. Our students string thread them interspersed with crisp white popcorn for a natural holiday decoration.
While we eat cranberries mostly at Thanksgiving, they are available fresh from late fall through early winter. In our Purple Asparagus classes, we taste cranberries in a number of more shelf stable forms, including dried and juiced. We’ve even found a delicious cheese mixed with cranberries, a rich, sweet and tart mix.
Legend has it that the Pilgrims served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving, which is why we eat them at our feasts today. Purple Asparagus students season their cranberry sauce with ginger, orange, and a locally produced cranberry honey.
Given that we don’t have a turkey to pair it with, we slather it onto whole wheat crackers topped with cream cheese. To wash it down, we make a homemade cranberry soda brightened with a spritz of lime juice. Both of these recipes will be a welcome addition to any of your holiday celebrations.
A delicious way to use up leftover cranberry sauce is to slather a thin layer of it between slices of whole wheat bread and sharp cheddar cheese. Griddle the sandwich in a well-buttered pan.
1 pint cranberries
1 orange, juice and zest
2 tsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
3 Tbs. honey, preferable Cranberry honey
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over medium to medium-high heat until the cranberries have popped and the mixture is soft and combined. Cool and serve. Serves 6 to 8.
¾ cup seltzer water
¼ cup cranberry juice cocktail
Mix together the first two ingredients in a large glass over ice. Squeeze the lime into the glass. Stir and enjoy! Serves 1.
About the author: Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus has taught thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores, as The Sustainable Cook on The Local Beet, and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune recently awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.