They’re bright, they’re cheerful, and they instantly make you think of the holidays. If you want the ultimate seasonal fruit, pick up a bag of fresh cranberries! While dried cranberries are almost always coated with sugar and most cranberry juices have more sugar than Coke does, fresh cranberries are tart, refreshing, and very low in sugar. (Per ounce, blueberries have 2.8 grams of sugar, strawberries and blackberries have 1.4 grams of sugar, and raspberries have 1.2 grams of sugar. Cranberries clock in at only 1.1 grams.) If you’re a fan of tart fruit, you’ll enjoy eating them out of the bag, but even if you aren’t, cranberries are delicious to include in muffins, cakes, pancakes, or in any recipe where you’d use berries. They’re particularly well-suited to egg-based recipes like custard and clafoutis, where their natural tartness provides a contrast to the richness of the eggs.
Aside from their refreshing tartness, cranberries are also high in pectin, meaning that they get sticky and thick when simmered with a splash of water. Translation: cranberries make great homemade jams and sauces.
Want to whip up a batch of berry jam?
Place cranberries and your favorite berries in a pot, add just enough water to barely cover them, and simmer for 15 minutes. Use a potato masher to break them up—that will help release the pectin in the cranberries—and keep simmering until you have the consistency you’d like. (If you want the jam to be a bit sweeter, add some maple syrup.) Homemade jam is lovely on everything from yougurt to pancakes, or you can top a wheel of Brie with the jam and bake it at 325F for 10 to 15 minutes to make a stunningly simple dessert.
Want to make your own cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving this year?
Add orange or lemon zest to the cranberries rather than more berries and simmer it down the same way. Citrus zest also contains lots of pectin, so your sauce will thicken nicely…and it will have much less sugar than store-bought sauce.
Cranberries contain high levels of vitamin C, which gives them their lemony brightness. Their tart flavor comes in handy when making vinaigrettes—you can combine fresh cranberries with extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, and herbs and then zip the whole thing through a small blender to make a pretty pink dressing to use on salads and as a marinade. (Essentially, you’re swapping out vinegar for cranberries.) Depending on the kind of blender you have, you’ll have a chunky vinaigrette or a thinner, smoother one, but either way, your guests will notice your extra-seasonal condiment. Or blend cranberries with vodka to use as a base for pink-tinted holiday cocktails.
Cranberries at are their peak during the holiday season—at other times of the year, they can be hard to find and expensive when you do find them. During the holidays, though, fresh cranberries are everywhere, and the good news is that they freeze beautifully. Their glossy skins are thicker than the skins of other berries, so they won’t clump when frozen (and they have more fiber, too), plus their vitamin C content is a natural preservative. All of this means you can just stock up on cranberries when they are in season, toss them into the freezer, and then take advantage of this versatile fruit all year round!