Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Native Americans used the cranberry for much more than a meal; its tannin helped preserve meat and treat leather, while its juice lent fabric a vibrant hue. High in antioxidants and other nutrients, the cranberry was also used medically, and still is today. The fruit existed in Great Britain, though the sauce on your holiday table is more than likely made from American cranberries, which were embraced by colonists but especially beloved when prepared with honey. Farmed for more than 250 years, these cranberries are now a multimillion-dollar industry.
What to Buy
At this time of year, fresh cranberries abound, so it’s best to stock up now. Be sure to inspect the bags for soft, shriveled, leaking or smashed globes; you want hard, dry, un-punctured cranberries ranging anywhere from a light red to a deep crimson. Always rinse before preparing, and discard any unfavorable fruit.
How to Prepare
Don’t limit yourself to sauce; cranberries can be dried or candied for a snack or lovely cake garnish. They also can be chopped into a relish or salsa; thrown into a bottle of alcohol for infusion; or baked — dried, boiled or raw — into lemon bars, scones, muffins, stuffing, cookies, you name it. Store them in your refrigerator for a month or so; in the freezer, they’ll last all year.
Cranberry-Orange Bread Pudding
By Morgan Botwinick of Whisk
4 large eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 2/3 cups heavy cream
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest, freshly grated
4 ounces fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries, roughly chopped
4 cups croissant scraps, preferably day-old, cubed 1-inch thick (any rich bread, such as brioche or challah, will do)
Cinnamon sugar, optional
Set your oven to 350 degrees, then grease the bottom and sides of a 1½-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar, then add cream, salt and orange zest. Whisk to combine. Add the croissant scraps and cranberries to the custard, mixing gently. Cover and let stand for 1 hour so that the bread absorbs the custard. Stir once halfway through; at this point, the pudding can be refrigerated overnight and baked the following day. Transfer the pudding to the casserole dish and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if you are using it. Bake on the center rack until the mixture is just set and slightly souffléed, and the top is lightly browned and crispy, about 35 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.