Lessons from the food world, if you’re going to do something, do it properly – no half measures. Products like “Coke Life” which pitch themselves as “slightly” healthier are just doomed. I think consumers fall into two groups – those who care and those who don’t. Those who care aren’t going to be taken in by something “slightly” healthier and those who don’t will keep buying the full sugar, full fat version.
Why am I talking about this? Well because I’ve been cooking with fresh cranberries recently and they are a perfect illustration of a food with no half measures. With health giving properties jumping out of every pore of their festive little skins, they are a truly super food. But, like quite a few super foods, they are not half-hearted in their flavour. Cranberries are seriously tart.
So food producers drown cranberries in sugar to make them palatable. Did you know dried cranberries are 65% sugar? Surely if a product is over 50% something else it should be marketed as Sugraisins not Craisins? Don’t get me wrong, a life of pure kale and bone broth holds little appeal for me. But it’s a bit naughty to try and pass off a sweet treat as healthy by labeling it a “fat-free snack” and “source of anti-oxidants”. I’m in the “those who care” camp and I’m not fooled.
I want to eat more cranberries. They’re really good for you and luckily fresh unprocessed cranberries are now within our reach thanks to Wild Ruby cranberry farm. I’ve had a box of their fresh cranberries to play with this autumn and I’ve made some delicious things from them, without 65% sugar. I was really impressed at the shelf life of the fresh fruit. They last for quite a few weeks in the fridge and they freeze very well too.
First up was real cranberry juice. Wow – talk about intense flavour. This super colourful, super tart juice is just like a cordial concentrate I remember being dared to drink neat as a kid. And I did end up treating it like a concentrate. I froze the pure juice in big silicone ice-cube trays and these frozen flavour bombs are brilliant added to a jug of juice and soda water. The cubes slice easily and just a little bit in a glass of soda water is seriously refreshing. Half a kilo of fresh cranberries yielded just under 400 mls of juice and trust me, a little goes a long way.
Next up I tried making a cranberry sauce to use with roast meats over winter. The sharp flavour of cranberry goes beautifully with most meats, but in particular anything rich like duck, pork, venison or, in our house, mutton. Cranberry sauce is one of those things you definitely don’t want to be sweet – the whole point of cranberry sauce is to bring some acidity to rich food. Most cranberry sauce recipes seem to have forgotten this and it’s hard to find one without loads of sugar.
This recipe is based on one I found on Epicurious which I’ve fiddled with a bit. It is really simple, freezes well and the orange juice and spices go beautifully with the cranberry flavour. The dates add a gooeyness to the finished sauce and a little of the sweetness that sugar would give. The original recipe has 1 1/4 cups of sugar in it but I think it’s nicer without it.
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 strips orange zest
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1 1/2 cups chopped dates
- 500 g fresh cranberries
Simmer water, zest, juice, vinegar and whole spices over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the dates and half of the cranberries and cook until the cranberries start to burst. Stir in remaining cranberries and simmer until they begin to burst. Done. It thickens up a bit on cooling. Freeze it in small punnets and serve at room temperature with hot or cold meats.
Next I had a go at drying some cranberries in the dehydrator. Drying anything intensifies its natural flavours so dried cranberries are super super tart. They dried really well but because they are hollow it was hard to tell when they were done. Next time I’d cut them up roughly in the food processor before drying.
I’ve been using these little bullets of flavour sparingly. They’re a bit intense for a pizza topping or adding to your muesli, but sprinkle a handful on a baking tray with some flaked almonds and pour over dark chocolate and you’ve got your own big slab of yum. A few dried cranberries in the teapot with a couple of dried apple slices make a good approximation of Healtheries Cranberry and Apple tea too.
I’ve got a recipe for cranberry ketchup which I’m yet to try but it looks really promising. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what you can do with fresh cranberries. Dianne Sheaf from Wild Ruby has amassed a great collection of recipes on their website that cover baking, desserts, meals and drinks – click here to take a look.
Finally I gave my Mum some fresh cranberries to have a play with too and she made this beautiful cranberry jelly, with plenty of sugar to make up for my efforts and I’ll be the first to admit, its damn fine.