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Loving cranberries is difficult because, for most of the year, they are an absentee partner. The elusive cranberry, be it in jellied form or sauce, usually only makes an appearance at the table for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. In more recent years, we have been introduced to the “craisin,” but that just isn’t the same thing at all. Nor is that occasional foray into cranberry juice for bladder infections.
By and large, cranberries, like stuffing, ought to be around more often. Not only do these two things — cranberries and stuffing — seem to only sneak out during the holidays, but they also pair splendidly. For many, they are the superstars of the holiday plate. Then, like the leaves of autumn, they seem to just disappear. But, some of us aren’t ready to say goodbye.
While we could certainly spend some time reflecting on the glory of a good stuffing, today we’ll be crooning over the cranberry, and hopefully, we’ll discover some ways to keep them around a bit longer, have them visit a bit more often, and potentially even grow some of our own.
Often is the case that those in more northern and colder environs are jealous of the warmth further south, where fresh produce grows for much longer, but cranberries are an exception to the rule. They are a cold-weather crop, thriving in states like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, as well as many Canadian provinces. Florida and California have simply had to bow out of this one.
For those in these northerly areas, perhaps it’s time to try growing your own cranberries. While commercial production uses bogs and expensive set-ups, this doesn’t have to be the case for home patches. Naturally, cranberries grow in bogs, so they like acidic, wet soil (these two characteristics usually go together) and lots of sun. Once planted in these conditions, the maintenance is very little. The soil needs to stay moist, and mulching it with pine needles (nice and acidic) will help maintain both the moisture level and that low pH. It is possible to order nearly mature vines online to get a head start on production.
Via defendable tradition, many of us have never even dealt with fresh cranberries. Somehow food processors have managed to corner the market on cranberries, producing that familiar can-imprinted cylinder most of us recognize as cranberry sauce. While undeniably tasty, that version is not — can this be said? — real cranberry sauce. For the cranberry connoisseur, nothing stacks up against what comes from fresh cranberries.
Strangely, those canned cranberry sauces are available for purchase year-round, but for some reason, they aren’t taken seriously until November of each year. Fresh cranberries, on the other hand, are a fall harvest crop, so that’s likely why this treat is associated with the later part of the year. For those who want to take advantage of this time and have homemade cranberry sauce throughout the year, it is easy.
When it comes to berries, storing them is par to the course. Most fresh berries freeze very well, and they can keep for up to a year in the freezer, waiting to be cranberry sauce whenever we please. Otherwise, for those who prefer to make a huge amount of cranberry sauce and store some, much like berry jams, it is easy to can because it’s so acidic that it doesn’t require pressurizing the jars.
It’s the right time of year to get fresh berries. It’s the right time of year to be inside canning and baking things, making sauces, and cooking up a storm. It’s the right time of year to start planning your own cranberry harvest for next fall, and it’s the right time for us to give cranberries a larger role on our menus.
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