A Kiss of Cranberry

A Kiss of Cranberry

Cranberries are as delicious in savory dishes as they are in desserts. Plus they’re packed with beneficial antioxidants and serve up a good bit of fiber. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy their flavor.

Thanks to TV ads, most of us probably envision cranberry bogs as waist-deep ponds where farmers wearing waders are surrounded by miles of beautiful red floating fruits. Truth is, that’s only what cranberry bogs look like during wet harvesting—a process in which farmers flood the marshy cranberry fields to make the berries easier to pick. (The flooding is followed by “beating” the plants to release the berries, which then float to the surface.) Wet-harvested berries are typically used for products like cranberry juice and dried cranberries. When gathering berries to be sold fresh in fall, farmers usually use a method called dry harvesting—where a tractor-like machine knocks the berries off the vines.

“When I lived in Connecticut, I used to go to the bogs in Massachusetts—the ones where they shoot the Ocean Spray commercials—and just pick and pick,” says Tom Gumpel, head baker at Panera Bread®. “I wasn’t eating them off the bush, though. That’s for sure! Cranberries are mostly sour. But sugar does a good job of bringing out the flavors in them.”

For Tom, the annual return of seasonal cranberry items to the Panera menu does more than evoke fond memories of those days in the fields. It also signals the true beginning of the holidays, with tastes of the Cranberry Walnut Bagel, Reduced-Fat Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Spread, and Holiday Bread. “Cranberries are about anticipation and how the seasons flow through our lives,” he says.

Try the following ideas for adding these versatile berries to your own dishes.

Jazz up your breakfast

Stir whole fresh cranberries into your favorite plain muffin recipe or toss the dried version into your morning bowl of oatmeal. For a great make-ahead breakfast, try No-Cook Sunflower-Cranberry Oatmeal: Mix ½ cup of old-fashioned oats, a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, and a tablespoon of dried cranberries into 1 cup of fat-free milk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Brighten your breadbasket

Add a few homemade Cranberry Chipotle Corn Muffins or squares of Cranberry Orange Cornbread to the usual offerings of sliced bread.

Sweeten your side dishes

Liven up leftover coleslaw with a sprinkling of dried cranberries paired with candied nuts or salted sunflower seeds. Toss fresh or dried cranberries into a baby-spinach salad along with chopped apples or mandarin orange segments and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Add dried cranberries to your tried-and-true bread stuffing recipe.

Make meats more of a treat

Create a sweet sauce for pork or turkey using white wine or chicken broth; water; chopped cranberries; and honey.

Spruce up sandwiches

Slather a layer of cranberry sauce onto a turkey sandwich or make our recipe for Turkey Cranberry Panini. You can also mix fresh or frozen chopped cranberries into a bit of hot pepper jelly for a fiery sandwich spread.

Bring zing to beverages

Muddle a few fresh or frozen cranberries with some sugar at the bottom of a rocks glass and add your favorite clear beverage. You can also use cranberry juice to cool and sweeten a cup of hot tea.

Add holiday panache to appetizers and desserts

Top whole grain crackers or phyllo cups with a little brie and some whole-berry cranberry sauce. (Microwave or bake just until the cheese melts.) In baked apples or apple crisp, replace some of the raisins with cranberries. Make cranberry-nut bark by blending dried cranberries and sliced almonds into melted baking chocolate.