Turn on the power of little red cranberries

The wind blows the cranberries to one side of the marsh at Glacial Lake Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids.
The wind blows the cranberries to one side of the marsh at Glacial Lake Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids. (Photos by Pamela O’Meara)
Wearing waders, Pam O’Meara stands in the cranberry marsh at Elm Lake Cranberry Company before helping the harvesters sweep the cranberries up into a truck for washing and shipping.
Wearing waders, Pam O’Meara stands in the cranberry marsh at Elm Lake Cranberry Company before helping the harvesters sweep the cranberries up into a truck for washing and shipping.
Delicious fresh, sugared cranberries were prepared and served by Great Expectations restaurant in Wisconsin Rapids.
Delicious fresh, sugared cranberries were prepared and served by Great Expectations restaurant in Wisconsin Rapids.

Wisconsin’s state fruit is a must-have holiday ingredient

Ever since I met up with my former college roommate in Cape Cod several years ago and we went to a cranberry festival, I’ve wondered how the tart red berries are grown, harvested and processed both in Cape Cod and Wisconsin, which grows even more cranberries.

Last month, I learned the answers when I visited part of the 50-mile Cranberry Highway in central Wisconsin. The state grows about 60 percent of the nation’s and the world’s cranberries.

Only about 5 percent are sold as fresh fruit. The remainder is processed into juice and dried cranberries. Wisconsin exports more than 300 million pounds of cranberries a year all over the U.S. as well as to Europe, Asia and Australia.

For centuries North Americans have had a fondness for the tart red fruit. Americans Indians greeted Europeans settlers with bark cups of wild cranberries as they came ashore in New England in the 1600s.

In 1663, a Pilgrim cookbook had a recipe for cranberry sauce, and references to cranberry sauce served with turkey began appearing. Many historians believe cranberry sauce and wild turkey were served at the first-ever Thanksgiving dinner.

Fresh cranberries ground up with oranges or served with marshmallows or even canned—have been on my Thanksgiving menu as long as I can remember. Of course, there are other ways to eat cranberries. My granddaughters love to snack on dried cranberries, and cranberries can be added to a variety of dishes for a colorful, flavor-filled accent.

Cranberries—the Wisconsin state fruit—are popular for their health benefits as well. The Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association says the berries contain significant amounts of antioxidants that may help protect against heart disease, cancer, certain stomach ulcers and urinary tract infections.

Harvesting the berries

At Glacial Lake Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids, owner Mary Brazeau-Brown is the third generation to run this independent cranberry farm, along with her husband, John.

Mary explained that central Wisconsin was once a glacial lake with a sandy bottom, and it has acidic soil and clean water, all of which are needed to grow these once-wild berries that are only native to North America. Cultivation in Wisconsin started around 1860, though cultivation on Cape Cod began in 1816.

Standing at the edge of one of her cranberry beds, she pointed out that cranberries are low-growing shrubs and vines whose blossoms are pollinated by the honeybees the farm brings in each spring.

She said that years ago the fruit was called cranberries because the blossoms looked like the sandhill cranes that would fly overhead.

The Browns give harvest tours in their berry bus, and I rode in it along the dikes between the vivid beds of red cranberries where a bald eagle flew overhead and trumpeter swans floated languidly in the cranberry marshes.

Mary explained that cranberries do not grow in water but the cranberry beds are flooded with water (from their own wetland reservoirs) at harvest time in September and October in order to lift up the vines, which by then are top-heavy with the fruit.

The wind tends to blow the berries to one end of the beds where they are then corralled in booms like those used for oil spills, but on a much smaller scale, she explained. Then the berries are picked up with a green harrower machine with bent tines and pushed onto a belt and up into a truck for cleaning and processing.

At Elm Lake Cranberry Company, also in Wisconsin Rapids, I actually put on bib waders and climbed into the corralled cranberries, and using a very large rake, briefly helped employees push the berries into a pipe up into a dump truck where they were washed clean of leaves and any other debris before going to Ocean Spray’s nearby processing plant. Owners Mike and Diane Moss, also third-generation growers, said all of their cranberries are turned into juice or dried fruit.

The final step for many of Wisconsin’s cranberries takes place at Ocean Spray Cranberries or at Badger State Fruit Processing, Inc., in nearby Pittsville. I toured Badger, where berries from many different independent growers —to the tune of 2 million pounds a day—are washed again and sorted and then frozen before being sliced in quarter-inch pieces, dehydrated and packaged as craisins for private labels. Badger State also produces private label cranberry juice packaged in drums or tankers.

Lots of ways to eat cranberries

Then it was time for a delicious cranberry lunch prepared by Ryan and Amy Scheide, owners of Great Expectations restaurant in Wisconsin Rapids but served at Elm Lake.

To see all the different ways cranberries can be served, we dined on wild rice with cranberries, green beans with slivered almonds and cranberries, chicken with a cranberry barbecue sauce, pork loin with merlot cranberry glaze, spinach with walnuts and cranberries, a cranberry walnut tart and a handful of sugared raw cranberries. You can also add cranberries to your smoothies or granola, the cranberry growers association suggests.

On central Wisconsin’s Cranberry Trail, I witnessed the whole process—from growing, harvesting and processing of cranberries, to sampling some delicious cranberry dishes to discovering the many different ways to eat these healthy red berries.

And I even took a cranberry cooking class that featured fennel, cranberry and orange salad, cranberry cheddar polenta, cranberry-apple compote with salmon, and crepes Suzettes with cranberries at the L’ecole de la Maison cooking school in the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake. Of course, we sampled all of the delicious dishes when we finished our preparations.

So with all the wonderful cranberry recipes I’ve collected, it’s hard to know what to prepare first—maybe a few for Thanksgiving and others for Christmas. And actually, the berries shouldn’t just be used for the holidays. As dried fruit, they are good any time of the year.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651.748.7818.


Great Aunt Ruby’s Spiced Cranberry Muffins

makes 16 muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 eggs
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cups milk
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs, oil and milk until well blended, add the flour mixture, beat until just moistened. Stir in cranberries. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes.

- Recipe from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association


Cranberry BBQ Sauce

Chop 1 cup fresh cranberries in food processor and blend with:
4 cups ketchup
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup brown sugar

Spread the sauce over cooked chicken or pork and bake a few more minutes.

- Great Expectations Restaurant and Catering Service in Wisconsin Rapids


Cranberry, Crabmeat and Cream Cheese Appetizers

Makes 15 servings
1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/3 cup cream cheese softened
1/4 cup minced crab meat
1 Tablespoon green onion, white and green parts, sliced
15 individual mini-phyllo shells, thawed.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Place cranberry sauce in a small mixing bowl; beat with a fork or wire whisk until smooth. Combine cream cheese, crab meat and green onion in a small mixing  bowl. Fill each shell with about 1 teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture.

Top with 1/2 teaspoon cranberry sauce. Bake for 10 minutes or  until heated through.

- Courtesy of Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.


Sugar Cranberries

12 whipped egg whites or a box of Egg White Beaters
5 pound bag of fresh cranberries
2 cups superfine sugar cinnamon

Toss cranberries in egg whites until coated. Mix together sugar and enough cinnamon until you can see the cinnamon in the sugar mixture. 

Drain the cranberries and add the sugar mixture slowly to coat. 

Refrigerate spread out on sheet pans for about an hour.


Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes approximately 30 cookies
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (6 ounce) package sweetened, dried cranberries
2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375° F. Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in sweetened, dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on  wire rack.

- Courtesy of Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.
 


Cranberry Walnut Tart

Tart Shell:
1 1⁄2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 Tablespoons ice water

Filling:
3 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 cup corn syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup butter (preferably unsalted)
1 1⁄2 cups chopped fresh cranberries

To prepare tart shell: blend flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Blend in cold butter until texture of course meal. Mix in egg yolk and ice water until dough is smooth. Form in ball and chill one hour. Roll until 1/8 inch thick and fits into an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Chill 30 minutes, line with foil and add pie weights. Bake at 425° F for 15 minutes; then remove pie weights and cool.

To prepare filling: whisk eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and vanilla. Stir in walnuts and cranberries. Pour into shell and bake at 350° F for 40 minutes.

- Great Expectations Restaurant and Catering Service in Wisconsin Rapids


Cranberry Chocolate Truffles

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄4 cup pureed fruit (cranberries and raspberries)

Mix chocolate with butter in a bowl. 

Add simmering heavy cream. Let sit until chocolate and butter are melted.

Whisk together, add in fruit and chill overnight. Scoop out, roll in nuts or coconut.

- from @1800 Restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin


Cranberry Vinaigrette Dressing

4 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup garlic
2 Tablespoons basil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon sugar

Combine cranberries, garlic, basil and balsamic vinegar in food processor. As it is blending, slowly stream in oil. Once well blended add in sugar. Use on salad greens of your choice.

- Great Expectations Restaurant and Catering Service in Wisconsin Rapids


Ultimate Party Meatballs

2 (1-pound) bags frozen pre-cooked cocktail-size meatballs (about 64 meatballs)
1 (16 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
1 (12 ounce) bottle chili sauce

Combine cranberry sauce and chili sauce in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the cranberry sauce is melted and smooth.

Add meatballs, stir gently to coat. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes or until meatballs are heated through. Place in chafing dish or slow cooker to keep warm.

Tip: to spice it up even more, add a teaspoon of cumin and a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne to the sauce while it is cooking.

- Courtesy of Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.


Cranberry Salsa

1 (16 oz.) can whole cranberry sauce
3-4 green onions, chopped (white and green)
2-3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 cup chopped canned jalapeños
1 teaspoon lime juice

Thoroughly combine all ingredients. Best if made several hours ahead but can be used right away. Use as an appetizer with chips or as a sandwich spread on a roasted turkey sandwich or a chicken wrap.

Variation (instead of the canned sauce):
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine water and sugar in saucepan bring to a boil, add cranberries, return to boil, and cook gently for 10 minutes without stirring. Pour into bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add next 5 ingredients below the canned sauce. Mix lightly, refrigerate.

- Recipe from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association


Apple Cranberry Compote

3 apples, peeled, cored and diced small
4 ounces fresh cranberries
1 cup dry white or rose wine
4 Tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup water
Pinch of sea salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cook until the cranberry has jelled and the apples are tender. Chef Scott Baker serves this over baked salmon.

Editor’s note: The apple cranberry compote would also be good served with turkey or over ice cream.

- Recipe from L’ecole de la Maison at the Osthoff Resort(tm)

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