Cranberries are so totally Native American and versatile—even more so now that dried cranberries are as widely available as fresh. You can find both from October to December, their peak market season, beyond for frozen, canned and dried varieties. They do grow wild in northern areas, some of these woody vines can live forever, at least it seems that way since there are vines over 150 years old on Cape Cod.
Deficiency of Vitamin C causes scurvy, a nasty disease that often affected sailors. It causes wounds to heal slowly, bleeding gums, pneumonia, and death. Easily reversible, (not the death part!) by having a few servings of foods with vitamin C, like cranberries.
Cranberries have many health benefits. Urinary tract infections are caused by small organisms in the urine that are above normally acceptably levels and cause infections in the bladder. Cranberry juice has proanthocynidins, which have anti-clinging properties that keep bacteria from sticking to the cells on the walls of the bladder. Used regularly it can help prevent recurring UTIs. These proanthocynidins also inhibit the growth of some cancer cells, particularly those associated with colon and prostate cancer.
Some studies of cranberry juice suggest that regular consumption inhibits the spread of breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancerous tumors. As if this wasn’t enough goodness, the little berry helps with heart ailments. The flavonoids in cranberries have antioxidant properties that can help decrease the threat of other diseases. Recent studies have shown cranberry juice may prevent cavities. Because cranberries are tart little things we need to be vigilant about watching the sugar content of commercial juice. So, because commercial cranberry juice cocktail drinks never have more than 30 percent juice, you might want to buy pure cranberry juice or extract which can be found in health food stores.
Massachusetts was once considered the primary state where cranberries grow. Now they are also grown in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Washington, and 5,500 acres are also cultivated in Quebec, British Columbia and Chili. In 1930, a grower cooperative was started, and now 70 percent of cranberries sold in the world today come from Ocean Spray. You can find fresh cranberries at your local market, usually packaged in a 12-ounce plastic bag, which freezes well. I like to have cranberry sauce in the fridge for just about every dinner and a backup can in the pantry. We use dried cranberries with, and in place of raisins, too. Along with blueberries and Concord grapes, cranberries are true Native American foods.
A Cranberry Bread
2 cups flour
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ cup orange juice
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 cups cranberries
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
½ teaspoon cinnamon, optional
½ cup chopped walnuts, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a regular bread pan. Sift flour, sugar, salt, allspice, baking powder, and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. In the middle of the sifted ingredients put the orange juice, eggs and melted butter. Walnuts, cranberries and grated orange rind should be folded in. Put into the greased bread pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Let cool thoroughly.
Getting the Most Out of Cranberries
To get the most nutrients out of your cranberries, eat them raw. Try mixing a bag of raw cranberries in a food processor with two green Granny Smith apples and a large thin-skinned orange. Add some honey, a dash of ginger, and a pinch of ground clove. Refrigerate overnight.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.